US official: With eye on North Korea, China puts bombers on ‘high alert’April 21, 2017
Chinese air force land-attack, cruise-missile-capable bombers were put “on high alert” on Wednesday as the US sees evidence that the Chinese military is preparing to respond to a potential situation in North Korea, a US defense official tells CNN.
The official said the US has also seen an extraordinary number of Chinese military aircraft being brought up to full readiness through intensified maintenance.
These recent steps by the Chinese are assessed as part of an effort to “reduce the time to react to a North Korea contingency,” the official said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang said Friday he was “aware of the relevant reports” of a heightened alert in the Chinese Air Force, but said he has “no information to give.”
Such a contingency could include the risk of an armed conflict breaking out as tensions on the peninsula have increased in the wake of multiple North Korean missile tests.
The US and Pyongyang have ratcheted up their rhetoric, with the latter’s state media warning Thursday that a pre-emptive strike by North Korea would result in the US and South Korea being “completely destroyed in an instant.”
Beijing has long been concerned about potential instability in North Korea should the regime in Pyongyang collapse, fearing both an influx of refugees and the potential of reunification under a South Korean government closely allied to the US.
China is also opposed to the US military’s presence in South Korea, protesting the recent US and South Korea decision to begin deploying elements of the THAAD missile defense system.
Given the close economic links between North Korea and China, US military officials have said that Beijing is critical to solving the North Korean situation, with President Donald Trump recently commending Chinese President Xi Jinping for Chinese efforts to curb Pyongyang’s activities.
Several senior administration officials told CNN Thursday that China is now the focus of the Trump administration’s North Korea strategy.
“Nobody thinks the Chinese are going to press North Korea militarily or bring the regime to its knees, but the strategy looks to China to find a political solution more than anything else,” one senior administration official said…