Gates warns of N Korea threat to US

China tests stealth fighter jet

US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates speaks to the media after his meeting with China’s President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Tuesday. AFP

Gates said although he expected North Korea’s ability to be limited, he anticipated the country would still develop within that time frame a small number of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could at least potentially deliver nuclear warheads. “I don’t think it’s an immediate threat, but on the other hand I don’t think it’s a five-year threat,’” Gates said.

Gates made his comments during a visit to Beijing on the same day that China, in a show of force for the US, conducted the first test flight of its new stealth fighter jet.

The 15-minute flight occurred just hours before Gates met with President Hu Jintao to talk about improving relations between the Chinese and American militaries and ways to reduce tensions during a nascent arms buildup between the two countries.

Officials unaware

In a development that stunned Gates and his entourage, a senior American defence official said Hu and all other Chinese civilian officials in the meeting were unaware of the test flight when Gates raised it with the Chinese president.

News of the flight of the radar-evading plane, the J-20, had been prominently posted on unofficial Chinese military websites a few hours before the meeting, raising serious concerns among the Americans that China’s political leadership had lost some control over the country’s military.

On North Korea, Gates’ new assessment is a significant shift for the Obama administration, which until now has viewed Pyongyang as a proliferation threat, fearing that it might sell its existing missiles and nuclear devices to other countries, like Iran.  

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