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Risk of Miscalculation Over North Korea Has Grown, Dempsey Says

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April 25 (Bloomberg) -- The risk of a miscalculation in the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs has increased, and China takes the tensions “very seriously,” the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday.

North Korea is “in a period of prolonged provocation rather than cyclical provocation,” Martin Dempsey told reporters yesterday after arriving in Beijing April 21 and meeting officials including President Xi Jinping.

Dempsey’s visit is part of a series of high-level contacts between the U.S. and China this month to discuss issues including cybersecurity and the North’s nuclear program. Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been high since February, when Kim Jong Un’s regime tested a nuclear device in defiance of the United Nations Security Council.

“The risk of miscalculation is higher and I think the risk of escalation is higher,” Dempsey said. “They are on a path that will certainly increase risk in the region.”

China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and Beijing regards the neighboring country as a strategic buffer with U.S.- backed South Korea. In a visit to China earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry said China needs to “put some teeth” into restraining Kim’s regime.

“I will leave here with the belief that the Chinese leadership is as concerned as we are,” Dempsey said. “We think there is still time for North Korea’s leaders to back away from provocations and we hope they take the opportunity to do so.”

‘Any Moment’

The North is ready to conduct another nuclear test “at any moment,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said on April 23. North Korea vowed to strengthen its nuclear program after a U.S. State Department report found the country guilty of “egregious and pervasive” human rights abuses.

North Korea’s continued pursuit of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons threatens international security and “seriously undermines regional stability,” the 28 foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said in a statement April 23.

In a sign of greater cooperation, China said its North Korea envoy, Wu Dawei, will visit Washington this week for talks. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns is also visiting Beijing this week.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se said during a visit to Beijing yesterday that his country and China agreed to set up a 24-hour hotline to address North Korea issues, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Henry Sanderson in Beijing at hsanderson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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