14:28 GMT28 February 2021
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    Washington and Seoul have rejected China's proposal to broker a deal between North Korea and the US and its allies; Beijing had hoped to defuse regional tensions.

    Earlier this week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed that North Korea should suspend its nuclear and missile activities in return for a halt in the annual war drills that are being conducted by South Korean and US troops in South Korea.

    Acting head of the US State Department's press service Mark Toner was quick to say that Beijing's proposal is about "completely different things," while Moon Sang-gyun, spokesman for South Korea's Defense Ministry, said that "the joint exercises will continue without a halt; it is a purely defensive annual drill."

    On Monday, media reports said that North Korea had carried out multiple launches of medium-range ballistic missiles. Out of four missiles, three landed 300-350 kilometers (186-217 miles) from Akita Prefecture, located in the northwest of Japan's main island of Honshu.

    A television screen shows news coverage of a North Korean rocket launch at Seoul station on March 7, 2017
    © AFP 2021 / Ed JONES
    A television screen shows news coverage of a North Korean rocket launch at Seoul station on March 7, 2017

    One missile landed about 200 kilometers (around 124 miles) from the prefecture, the closest a North Korean missile has come to Japan in the history of the country's missile launches, the broadcaster NHK reported on Thursday, citing a government analysis.

    After Washington rejected Beijing's initiative, the possibility of a worst-case scenario escalation with North Korea has increased, Azhdar Kurtov, an expert at one think-tank, the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, told Sputnik China.

    "The next several weeks will see increasing tensions between the sides. The new American President has apparently decided that it was time to refer to the use of force by holding military exercises [with South Korea] and sending an additional contingent of US warships to the Korean Peninsula," Kurtov said.

    He quoted other experts as saying that if the situation continues to escalate, the United States may stage pin-point strikes on sites where North Korean missile systems are located and sites where its nuclear weapons are being developed.

    "As for Pyongyang, it will not abandon its course because North Korea's authorities have the vivid example of recent events in Libya and Iraq, where the US violated international law and carried out a military intervention against sovereign states," Kurtov said.

    According to him, if the leadership of Libya and Iraq had nuclear weapons, the situation would have developed in line with different scenario; the Americans would not have dared to kick off an open military intervention."

    In an interview with Sputnik China, expert Konstantin Asmolov of the Moscow-based Institute of the Far East, said that even though the situation is aggravating, the Trump Administration's refusal to sit down with Pyongyang hasn't been the lowest point of the current round of tensions.

    "Much more importantly, it is the deployment of the US THAAD missile defense system in South Korea, not North Korea's missile launches, that will deteriorate the situation in the region," Asmolov said, adding that he doesn't rule out Beijing's military confronting the US and South Korea given, thatTHAAD is directed against China rather than Pyongyang.

    On the other hand, China pursues a balanced and equally oriented policy and Beijing does not want to a military-political standoff to turn into a new "hot spot," according to Asmolov.

    He was echoed by expert of the Diplomatic Academy of China Ren Yuanzhe, who told Sputnik China that the regional situation may be further exacerbated, especially against the swift deployment of the THAAD system in South Korea and the US- South Korean war games.

    "At the same time, it is in the interests of various parties to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. In this vein, China's initiative to return the sides to the negotiating table is the only way tio resolve the Korean Peninsula-related problems and achieve long-term security in the region," Yuanzhe concluded.

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