, SINGAPORE, May 30 – The United States warned it would not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea as China appealed for calm amid fears that Pyongyang was readying for a long-range missile test.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates told a high-level security forum in Singapore that North Korea’s actions, including its nuclear test earlier this week, could spark a regional arms race.
"Our goal is complete and verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, and we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state," Gates said.
"North Korea’s nuclear programme and actions constitute a threat to regional peace and security. We unequivocally reaffirm our commitment to the defence of our allies in the region," he added.
Tensions have been running high since Kim Jong-Il’s regime said it staged its second atomic bomb test on Monday and renounced the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953.
The communist North has warned it could launch an attack on the South, which hosts US military forces, and vowed to respond strongly to any fresh sanctions imposed by the United Nations.
North Korea fired another short-range missile Friday and US satellite photos have revealed vehicle activity at two sites in North Korea, suggesting the regime may be preparing to launch a long-range missile, two US defence officials said on Friday.
The vehicle movements resembled work done before North Korea fired a long-range rocket last month, the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
But Gates said Washington "will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in Asia — or on us."
If North Korea continues "the path they are on, I think the consequences for stability in the region are significant," he added.
"I think it poses the potential for some kind of an arms race here in this region," he said, although he said the likelihood of Japan moving to acquire nuclear capability was "at this point remote."
Meanwhile, a top Chinese military official appealed for calm in Singapore, which is hosting an annual meeting of defence ministers and military officials known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.
"The Korean peninsula should move towards denuclearisation and we hope that all parties concerned will remain cool-headed and take measured measures to address the problem," said Lieutenant-General Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the general staff at the People’s Liberation Army.
Gates had earlier underscored the importance of cooperation, including in the area of defence, with China, seen as the nation with the most leverage on the diplomatically isolated regime in Pyongyang.
The United States, China and the two Koreas were part of six-nation talks that agreed in 2007 to provide aid and security guarantees to North Korea in return for denuclearisation.
Pyongyang stormed out of the accord last month in protest after the UN Security Council unanimously condemned its long-range missile launch.
The United States, China and other UN Security Council members have been mulling possible fresh sanctions against North Korea.
The White House said Thursday that China was being "very helpful" in the efforts to censure North Korea over its nuclear and missile tests.
Touching on other regional security issues, Gates urged Asian allies to step up support for its military campaign and nation-rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan.
"The challenge in Afghanistan is so complex, and so un-traditional, that it can only be met by all of us working in concert," he said.
The US Defence Secretary also pressed Myanmar’s military rulers to free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and reopen dialogue with the opposition following her latest arrest after an eccentric American man swam to her lakeside home.