North Korean Vice Minister of the People's Armed Forces, Col. General Kim Hyong Ryong, center, gestures as he chats with South Korean delegations during a tea break for the Xiangshan Forum, a gathering of the region's security officials, in Beijing, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018. The top North Korean general says his country wants to turn the Korean Peninsula into "the cradle of peace and prosperity." (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

North Korean general says country seeking 'stable peace'

October 25, 2018 - 5:57 am

BEIJING (AP) — A top North Korean general said Thursday that his country seeks a "stable peace" and wants to turn the Korean Peninsula into "the cradle of peace and prosperity," furthering a departure from the bellicose language of the past.

Vice Minister of the People's Armed Forces, Col. Gen. Kim Hyong Ryong, told a defense forum in Beijing that Pyongyang wanted to "contribute to the security of Asia and the globe."

"It is our unwavering stand to lead the current state of tension ... into stable peace and turn the Korean Peninsula that was once the hottest spot in the globe into the cradle of peace and prosperity," Kim told participants at the opening session of the Xiangshan Forum hosted by China.

Kim said North Korea was following through on agreements reached with South Korea and the U.S., including the consensus reached with U.S. President Donald Trump at a June summit in Singapore.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has this year taken some steps to ease tensions, including dismantling a nuclear testing site. However, the United States and its allies are reluctant to ease sanctions pressure unless the country takes significant disarmament steps.

While the Singapore declaration has been criticized as vague, tensions along the North and South Korean border have dropped, as witnessed by a joint effort to remove mines from one of the heaviest Korean War battle sites at their border.

That is among a package of agreements the Koreas' defense ministers struck on the sidelines of their leaders' summit last month.

Kim Hyong Ryong met Thursday with South Korean Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo-suk at the forum. During their 10-minute encounter, the two reconfirmed their countries' plans to quickly carry out the agreements reached last month, Seoul's Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Trump raised hopes at the United Nations last month that a second summit with Kim Jong Un could occur "quite soon," striking a conciliatory tone one year after he used his debut at the U.N. to deride the autocrat as "Little Rocket Man" and threaten to "totally destroy North Korea." Pyongyang responded with its own insults and renewed threats of retaliation for any attacks.

At a later discussion at the forum, a North Korean official said progress on reducing tensions merited the cancellation of United Nations sanctions and other forms of pressure on his country.

"We think that sanctions and pressure do more harm than good," said Song Il Hyok, deputy director general of the Institute for Disarmament and Peace under North Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Also addressing Thursday's forum, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe lashed out at the U.S. over a recent speech by Vice President Mike Pence accusing China of seeking to interfere in the upcoming midterm elections.

"The Chinese side expresses strong condemnation and firm opposition. We strongly urge the U.S. to correct its wrongful statement and refrain from harming bilateral relations," Wei said.

Pence's speech came amid what many are calling the most marked deterioration of China-U.S. ties since the end of the Cold War.

Both sides have imposed increased tariffs on billions of dollars of imports, sparked by U.S. accusations of unfair Chinese trading practices and demands by Beijing that foreign firms hand over technology as part of a plan to make China a global leader in areas such as robotics and artificial intelligence.

Wei also reiterated China's warnings over support for Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy that it claims as its own territory. While the U.S. has no formal ties with Taiwan in deference to China's demands, it retains strong diplomatic and military relations with Taipei and recently approved a major arms package to bolster its defenses against a threatened Chinese attack.

"The Taiwan question concerns China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Wei said, calling that "a matter of our core interests."

"It is extremely dangerous to repeatedly challenge China's bottom line on this question," he said. "If anyone ever tries to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will take resolute action, and we will pay whatever price that has to be paid."

Wei also touched on recent frictions with the U.S. over the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety despite counterclaims from multiple other nations.

Destroyers of the two navies came perilously close to colliding late last month and the former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe warned Wednesday that it's very likely the United States will be at war with China in 15 years.

Wei said U.S. actions in the crucial waterway through which $5 trillion in annual trade passes were "provocative and will only aggravate tensions."

"The islands in the South China Sea have long been China's territory. They're the legacy of our ancestors, and we can't afford to lose a single inch of them," Wei said.

The Xiangshan Forum is a multilateral defense meeting that Beijing has promoted in an effort to boost its regional influence. Organizers said more than 500 representatives from 67 countries and seven organizations were attending the three-day gathering.

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This story corrects the spelling of the Chinese defense minister's name to Wei Fenghe, not We Fenghe.

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