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Top US Military Officer Calls on China to 'Step Up' on North Korea

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen (file photo)

The top U.S. military officer on Wednesday called on China's leaders to take action to end what he calls North Korea's "provocative" and "reckless" behavior.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, said North Korea's recent artillery attack on a South Korean island, and its earlier attack on a South Korean Navy ship, threaten stability in the region, and that China's leaders are "uniquely placed" to influence a change in North Korea's actions.

"China's leadership has more influence in Pyongyang than any other country -- period," he said. "There's no other country that's close. So the six-party talks might be interesting. But it is going to come out of Beijing that this thing gets taken to a level where we can figure out a way to contain the reckless behavior and move ahead."

Mullen said China's increasing military power in recent years comes with more responsibility to help maintain stability in Asia. He said its decades of aid and support for North Korea give China "significant leverage" that could be used to ease the tension on the Korean Peninsula.

The Chinese government has called for a resumption of negotiations known as the Six-Party Talks as a way to deal with the situation, but Admiral Mullen rejected that approach. He said it is time for Chinese leaders to "step up" and take action on an issue that directly affects their security as well as stability in the region.

"Beijing's call for consultations will not substitute for action. And I do not believe we should continue to reward North Korea's provocative and destabilizing behavior with bargaining or new incentives," said Mullen.

The admiral's remarks at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress, a Washington research organization, echoed comments made earlier by the U.S. and South Korean foreign ministers when they met in Kazakhstan.

Admiral Mullen said North Korea has raised the stakes in Northeast Asia through its two recent attacks and by building a new uranium enrichment plant capable of refining material for additional nuclear weapons.

He indicated that could also be destabilizing elsewhere, calling North Korea "the worst proliferators of nuclear technology in the world." Mullen called for China's help to end that, in part by making it more difficult for North Korea to trade with countries that want nuclear technology, like Iran.

The admiral said the just-concluded U.S.-South Korea naval exercises in the Yellow Sea, near the site of the latest North Korean attack, were aimed at deterring further attacks and demonstrating America's commitment to South Korean's security.