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Lawrence Cannon doubts Korean 'gunboat diplomacy' will escalate to war

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon says North Korea's new, belligerent threats are sabre-rattling and he does not expect the isolated nation to act on its warning of a "physical response" to joint U.S.-South Korean war games in the Pacific this weekend.

Mr. Cannon, in Hanoi to attend the summit of Asian nations where North Korean officials issued the combative warning Thursday, said he doesn't believe the world is on the verge of a military confrontation around the Korean peninsula.

"I don't think so," Mr. Cannon said Friday in a conference call with reporters. "The message today was clear. The majority, if not the total number of the participants around the table called upon North Korea to act in accordance with international rules ... and to indeed stop their aggressive behaviour with South Korea."

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He added: "I don't think that North Korea will want to ramp up its position. Clearly the whole region is supportive of South Korea, and I would be astonished to see North Korea take any other steps."

North Korea's unpredictability is, however, an element that has kept South Korea and its allies nervous.

And in Hanoi this week, at the regional forum of the Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, officials from the North, formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, issued bellicose warnings. A spokesman for the North Korean delegation, Ri Tong-il, told reporters that joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, set to start Sunday, are an example of "gunboat diplomacy."

"It is a threat to the Korean peninsula and the region of Asia as a whole. And the DPRK's position is clear: there will be a physical response to the threat imposed by the United States militarily," he said.

Canada has no ships or sailors involved in the war games, according to the Department of National Defence.

Tensions around the Korean peninsula have been high since the March sinking of South Korean warship, the Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors. An international investigation that included Canadian experts concluded the ship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo.

Mr. Cannon said that at the ASEAN meeting, North Korea attacked the investigation as rigged. "They clearly indicated that there was a conspiracy theory of sorts," Mr. Cannon said.

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He said Canada, which pushed a tough line on North Korea at the G8 and G20 summits in June, is very supportive of new sanctions to curtail trade, and backs U.S. efforts to see them more stringently enforced.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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