Dunford Stresses Diplomacy, Sanctions for North Korea in Talks With Chinese

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, observes an attack exercise by Chinese troops at a Chinese army base in Shenyang, China, Aug. 16, 2017. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro

U.S. and Chinese defense officials are pulling no punches as they discuss issues of concern to both countries, including the problem posed by a nuclear-armed North Korea, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday in Shenyang, China.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford said meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Army Gen. Fang Fenghui, have been interesting and candid. The chairman spoke to reporters after observing a Chinese infantry unit demonstrate combined arms maneuvers at the Northern Theater Command’s Haicheng Camp. The Northern Theater Command is the Chinese unified command nearest North Korea.

The chairman said much of the discussions with Chinese officials have concerned North Korea. Dunford said he discussed the U.S. approach to the North, which is based on diplomatic and economic pressure. “I also addressed the fact that we were developing military options in the event that the diplomatic and economic pressure failed,” he said.

The U.S. wants North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to agree to denuclearize his country and stop his rocket testing. That is the preferable end state, the chairman said, and he told the Chinese military leaders that. “But we needed to seriously have a conversation about what might happen if there was military action,” the chairman said.

Dunford said the U.S. was pleased with the recent vote in the United Nations Security Council, which unanimously passed a resolution sanctioning North Korea for its nuclear and rocket programs. China, North Korea’s only ally and a United Nations veto power, voted in support of the measure.

“We believe that if China enforces those sanctions — if the international community enforces those sanctions — that can set the conditions to move forward toward denuclearization,” the general said. “It’s an important step.”

The chairman also told Chinese officials that President Donald J. Trump expects the chairman to have credible military options in the event the diplomatic and economic pressure fails to achieve denuclearization.

“My message in Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo has been [that] the time to have some initial conversations about what a contingency on the Korean Peninsula would look like is before the contingency occurs,” he said. “It would also be helpful for us to have effective communications mechanisms in place, so in the event of a crisis, we can immediately speak to each other and avoid miscalculation and a deepening crisis.”

During Dunford’s visit, he and Fang signed an agreement to increase operational communication between the U.S. and Chinese militaries and mitigate the risk of miscalculation. “It’s an encouraging step,” the chairman said.. “We haven’t had something like that before. It is a framework for us to have a conversation.”

The Joint Staff’s director of strategy and policy, Army Lt. Gen. Richard Clarke, will lead the American side of the discussions and the first meeting is scheduled to be in November in Washington.

The dialogue will be most important in lessening the chances of misunderstanding or miscalculation between the two nations, Dunford said.

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