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N. Korea must be met with stronger action: US experts

WASHINGTON -- North Korea must be met with stronger action if it is to be stopped from triggering a catastrophe on the Korean Peninsula, US experts said Tuesday.

The firing of an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan earlier in the day was a rare hostile act that increased the chances of a military confrontation in the volatile region.

The United States and South Korea must take decisive action to demonstrate that the regime in Pyongyang will not be allowed to get away with any more provocations, and China, they noted, will have to play a key role in that effort.

"China has the power to increase the pressure on North Korea and must take steps towards doing so," said Donald Manzullo, president of the Korea Economic Institute of America. "The longer China continues to refrain from using all of the leverage at its disposal to convince North Korea to return to talks, the more likely North Korea is to miscalculate."

Beijing is Pyongyang's only major ally and key benefactor. US President Donald Trump and others have urged China to do more to rein in its wayward neighbor, but Beijing has refused to bear responsibility for the North Korean nuclear problem.

Bruce Bennett, a senior researcher at RAND Corp., said the latest launch could have resulted in part from a lack of action by the US and South Korea against what was seen as a low-intensity provocation Saturday. North Korea launched three short-range ballistic missiles then.

"If the (US and South Korea) fail to act seriously against (Tuesday's) test, the North may feel that it can commit an even more serious provocation, while the exercises are ongoing, perhaps even another intercontinental ballistic missile test or a nuclear weapon test," he said in an email.

Bennett was referring to the Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercise currently under way between South Korea and the US Analysts have said the back-to-back provocations were staged in response to the annual drills, which Pyongyang views as rehearsals for an invasion.

North Korea may also believe it has China's backing because Beijing recently proposed the allies cancel their drills in exchange for a halt to North Korea's missile and nuclear testing, he noted.

Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said the UN Security Council is likely to adopt tougher sanctions against Pyongyang.

"There may be other steps Trump is considering to take unilaterally, whether cyber or kinetic. The key question is: How far is China prepared to go?" he said in a separate email. "But even if effective, sanctions will take time to have an impact -- nine to 12 to 15 months. The danger is that this cycle of tensions rises to the point where the US seeks more immediate results. That could be catastrophic." (Yonhap)