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North Korea greatest menace to Asian peace, top U.S. general says

May 14, 1997

BEIJING (AP) _ North Korea poses the greatest threat to peace in Asia, because floods and famine have driven the economy to ruin and made the government increasingly unpredictable, the top U.S. general said Wednesday.

Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Chinese officials that the United States will maintain its current levels of force in the Asian-Pacific region, despite reductions elsewhere.

``To reduce our troop presence could destabilize the region and could set off a heated arms race,″ he said. ``And thus, we think the whole region, including China, benefits from our presence.″

Shalikashvili, addressing the National Defense University, said foremost among dangers to stability is the ``unpredictable regime in Pyongyang, which poses a major threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula and in the surrounding area.″

Food shortages aggravated by floods in the past two years have pushed North Korea’s faltering economy to the brink of ruin, raising fears that the country’s reclusive leadership could lash out at rival South Korea in desperation.

``Today, the security situation on the Korean Peninsula is worse than it was 25 years ago, when I served there as a military planner,″ Shalikashvili said.

He noted U.S. concerns about the spread of nuclear, chemical and missile technology and arms transfers from China to Pakistan. But he said the United States has no intention of ``containing″ China’s rise as a world power.

``China is a great power and it is rapidly becoming a greater power,″ he said. ``We see your development as being in our interest.″

Shalikashvili’s four-day visit, which began Monday, was the first by a Joint Chiefs chairman since 1983.

Washington and Beijing have stressed the need for more exchanges between senior military leaders after tensions over Taiwan last year.

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province. It staged military maneuvers and launched test missiles to discourage independence moves during Taiwan’s presidential election in March. The United States responded by sending warships near the island to signal its support for Taipei, a Cold War ally.

Gen. Fu Quanyou, chief of the General Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army, told Shalikashvili that improved ties depend on avoiding friction over Taiwan, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Shalikashvili said closer cooperation could improve communication, reduce potential misunderstandings and improve overall relations.

``But we should not fool ourselves. Improving military-to-military contacts will not be easy,″ he said. ``To succeed we will have to overcome our past and struggle uphill against our suspicions.″

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