In a rare comment on the deteriorating North Korean situation, outspoken Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte urged the US to show restraint after North Korea's latest missile test and to avoid playing into the hands of leader Kim Jong Un, who "wants to end the world". The notoriously blunt Duterte said on Saturday that the Southeast Asia region was extremely worried about tensions between the United States and North Korea, and said one misstep would be a "catastrophe" and Asia would be the first victim of a nuclear war.
"There seems to be two countries playing with their toys and those toys are not really to entertain," the president said quoted by Reuters during a news conference after the ASEAN summit in Manila, referring to Washington and Pyongyang. “One miscalculation of a missile, whether or not a nuclear warhead or an ordinary bomb, one explosion there that would hit somebody would cause a catastrophe."
Duterte also warned the United States, Japan, South Korea and China that they are sparring with a man who was excited about the prospect of firing missiles. Duterte's speech, which was delivered in his capacity as chairman of ASEAN, was due to speak by telephone to U.S. President Donald Trump later on Saturday. He said he would urge Trump not to get into a confrontation with Kim.
"You know that they are playing with somebody who relishes letting go of missiles and everything. I would not want to go into his (Kim's) mind because I really do not know what's inside but he's putting mother earth, the planet to an edge."
Ahead of his phone call with the US president, Duterte appealed to Trump saying it was incumbent upon the US as the a responsible country to not rise to Kim's provocations. He said he was sure Trump had cautioned his military not to allow the situation to spiral out of control; what Duterte may have ignored is that it may be precisely Trump's intent to provoke Kim into a first move, giving the US a carte blanche to retaliate. "Who am I to say that you should stop? But I would say 'Mr. President, please see to it that there is no war because my region will suffer immensely'," Duterte said. "I will just communicate to (Trump), 'just let him play... do not play into his hands'."
He added: "The guy (Kim) simply wants to end the world, that is why he is very happy. He is always smiling. But he really wants to finish everything and he wants to drag us all down."
Ironically, Duterte has joined China and Russia in pleading with the leaders of North Korea and the U.S. to tone down their nuclear brinksmanship, even as he agreed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that negotiations to end the standoff would be useless.
“We have to caution everybody including those who’d give the advice to the two players because you have nuclear warheads to just show restraint,” Duterte said.
Meanwhile, speaking in London, Japan's Prime Minister Abe said talks with North Korea shouldn’t be tried while the communist nation continues its “provocative acts.” In a briefing for reporters in London, Abe described the missile as a “grave threat” that “can absolutely not be tolerated.”
China, which accounts for the vast majority of North Korean trade, has an important role to play, Abe added. Tillerson told the UN Security Council Friday that countries that fail to implement economic sanctions on Kim’s regime “fully discredit this body.” Trump said in a Twitter message Friday that the missile launch disrespected Chinese President Xi Jinping.
And speaking of China, Beijing's official news agency, Xinhua, urged President Donald Trump to “tread cautiously” with the U.S. and North Korea locked in a “tit-for-tat” vicious cycle. According to Bloomberg, in a commentary distributed by Xinhua, the official China news agency said the U.S. and North Korea “need to tread cautiously not to ignite another war in the region.” The U.S. needs to “terminate the state of war” on the peninsula while North Korea needs to offer a “solid reason” for the U.S. to change its policy, Xinhua said in the commentary.
During his speech at the UN, Tillerson said that the U.S. goal isn’t to overthrow Kim’s regime but ruled out talks unless the North Korean leader takes “concrete steps to reduce the threat that illegal weapons programs pose to the United States and our allies.” As the meeting concluded, Tillerson reiterated that the U.S. wouldn’t agree to talks unless North Korea abides by existing Security Council resolutions.
Several hours later, Kim test-fired (unsuccessfully) his latest, sixth, ballistic missile of 2017.