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China says North Korea must face 'some punitive actions' after reported nuclear test

Updated:
UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ North Korea must face ``some punitive actions'' for testing a nuclear device, China's U.N. ambassador said Monday, suggesting that Beijing may be willing to impose some form of Security Council sanctions against Pyongyang.

China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters that the council must give a ``firm, constructive, appropriate but prudent response'' to North Korea.

``I think there has to be some punitive actions but also I think these actions have to be appropriate,'' he said.

Wang spoke before a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council _ Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States _ plus Japan, to discuss a U.S.-proposed draft Security Council resolution. It would impose an array of sanctions, including a ban on imports of military goods and luxury items, and crack down on illegal financial dealings.

While the U.S. and its allies want a swift, tough resolution, the question has been how much punishment China would allow. China has been North Korea's major ally and a source of both food and fuel for the desperately poor nation of 23 million.

Wang's comments suggested that Beijing will at least allow some muscle in the resolution.

In Beijing earlier Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry vented its anger against its communist ally over the test for a second day, with a spokesman saying that relations had been damaged.

``The nuclear test will undoubtedly exert a negative impact on our relations,'' the spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said at a routine media briefing. He said Monday's test was done ``flagrantly, and in disregard of the international community's shared opposition.''

Wang went a step further than Liu, suggesting the need for limited action.

China finds North Korea as a useful if irritating buffer against U.S. forces stationed in South Korea. The worry for Beijing is that too much pressure could cause economically unsteady North Korea to collapse, sending North Koreans streaming across the border into northeast China and inviting intervention by the American military.

The North, meanwhile, stepped up its threats aimed at Washington, saying it could fire a nuclear-tipped missile unless the United States acts to resolve its standoff with Pyongyang, the Yonhap news agency reported from Beijing.

``We hope the situation will be resolved before an unfortunate incident of us firing a nuclear missile comes,'' Yonhap quoted an unidentified North Korean official as saying. ``That depends on how the U.S. will act.''

The official said the nuclear test was ``an expression of our intention to face the United States across the negotiating table,'' reported Yonhap, which didn't say how or where it contacted the official, or why no name was given.

Even if Pyongyang is confirmed to have nuclear weapons, experts say it's unlikely the North has a bomb design small and light enough to be mounted atop a missile. Their long-range missile capability also remains in question, after a test rocket in July apparently fizzled out shortly after takeoff.

The Bush administration rejected anew Tuesday direct talks with North Korea and said it would not be intimidated by the reported threat.

``This is the way North Korea typically negotiates by threat and intimidation,'' said U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, who was interviewed on CNN and on CBS' ``The Early Show. ``It's worked for them before. It won't work for them now.''

Asked about the possibility of U.S. military action against North Korea, including a possible naval blockade, Bolton said, ``Well, we're not at that point yet.''

``We keep the military option on the table because North Korea needs to know that, but President Bush has been very clear he wants this resolved peacefully and diplomatically,'' Bolton said.

Bolton did not comment to reporters as he entered the meeting of the five permanent council members and Japan.

Meanwhile, Japan's leader said the country could slap sanctions on North Korea without waiting for confirmation of its alleged nuclear weapons test. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told lawmakers his nation still had no intention of seeking atomic weapons, easing fears of a new regional nuclear arms race.

``There will be no change in our non-nuclear arms principles,'' he said.

Measures could include a total trade embargo, stricter financial sanctions, banning North Korean nationals from entering Japan, blocking North Korean boats from Japanese ports and ordering ships already in Japan to leave, officials and news reports said.

Earlier Tuesday, Japan's lower house of Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution protesting Pyongyang's move.

``As the only country to have ever suffered a nuclear attack ... Japan strongly condemns North Korea's actions and demands that it abandon its nuclear weapons program,'' the resolution read. Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki were leveled by American atomic bombs in 1945.

Liu, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said ``taking military action against North Korea would be unimaginable.''

``What we should discuss now is not the negative issue of punishment,'' Liu said. ``Instead, the international community and the United Nations should take positive and appropriate measures that will help the process of de-nuclearization on the Korean peninsula.''

The South Koreans were lining up with the Chinese in opposing any U.N. resolution that includes a military threat.

``There should never be war on the Korean Peninsula,'' South Korean Prime Minister Han Myung-sook told parliament.

South Korea said that it believed the North had exploded a nuclear device on Monday, but officials claimed that it might take up to two weeks to confirm whether the test was successful.

Seoul was borrowing a sophisticated radioactivity detector _ set to arrive Wednesday _ from Sweden to confirm the tests, said Bae Koo-hyun, a researcher of the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety.

Although the reported test drew worldwide condemnation and talk of harsh sanctions, the South said it would stick with its efforts to engage the North, though the policy would be reviewed.

North Korea celebrated a holiday Tuesday marking the 61st anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea. There was no traffic across a key bridge on a border river between China and North Korea.

China canceled leave for its soldiers along the North Korean border and some units were conducting anti-chemical weapons drills, the pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po reported in Hong Kong. The paper didn't elaborate.

There was no sign of heightened security in the Chinese border city of Dandong, and reporters saw two boatloads of North Korean tourists on the river, smiling and waving to people on the Chinese shore.
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