The United States' top general says the United States and South Korea will proceed with joint military drills next week, resisting pressure from China and North Korea to halt the annual exercises.
Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday in Beijingt he United States has no plans to curtail military exercises with South Korea, which has angered Beijing and Pyongyang.
“Until or unless North Korea demonstrates a willingness to back down from the path that they’re on right now, which is the development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles that can threaten Japan, can threaten Korea, can threaten the Unites States and quite frankly can threaten China, then I would not recommend and have not recommended that we dial back military exercises,” he said.
Watch: Top US General Meets Chinese President Xi to Discuss North Korean Threat
US-South Korean military exercises
Annual exercises between the U.S. and South Korean militaries, dubbed Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, began with what military officials called a “soft start” on Wednesday, with the major portion of the exercises to begin Monday.
Dunford acknowledge a military solution to North Korea's nuclear threat would be "horrific," but he said allowing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to develop ballistic missiles with a nuclear warhead that can threaten the United States is "unimaginable."
The top U.S. general said President Donald Trump has asked military leaders to develop credible, viable military options. "That's exactly what we're doing," he said.
But Dunford said the military option would be used only if diplomatic and economic pressures fail to halt Pyongyang's nuclear buildup. The goal, he stressed, is to peacefully denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
“I think everybody agrees that diplomatic and economic pressure for now is the right approach, and again everyone believes that the U.N. Security Council sanctions now must be vigorously enforced to set the conditions for the broader political discussion that would take place,” he said.
China, which the United States says has not done enough to constrain North Korea, started enforcing new sanctions this week, banning North Korean exports ranging from seafood to coal.
Richard Bush, a senior fellow in the Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Center, said China’s decision to sanction North Korea was due to more than just the desire to denuclearize the peninsula.
“One of the reasons China was willing at least to agree to these sanctions was threats on our part that we would start sanctioning Chinese entities, and they don’t want to go there,” Bush said.
Bush added the United States and its international allies will be closely watching China’s commitment to these sanctions and will make them aware of any cheating seen.
In the past, China has been reluctant to deny resources to North Korea in order to pressure Pyongyang to curb its nuclear weapons ambitions. But in the past few weeks, China has appeared to take measures to keep its bad-behaving neighbor in check.
Last week, China voted alongside a unanimous U.N. Security Council to impose strict new sanctions on Pyongyang in response to North Korea's launch of two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July. The new sanction could cost Pyongyang an estimated $1 billion a year.