Continued from page 1

The U.S. is urging patience but is worried that rising frustration in the South may force its leaders to retaliate if the North attacks again.

Mr. Gates was in Tokyo earlier Friday, where he said North Korea was less able to invade South Korea now than it was a decade or more ago but has become a more lethal threat to Asia and the world.

“The character and priorities of the North Korean regime sadly have not changed,” Mr. Gates said.

North Korea’s ability to launch another conventional ground invasion is much degraded from even a decade ago, but in other respects it has grown more lethal and more destabilizing,” Mr. Gates said in an address to students at Keio University.

North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and missile technology “threaten not just the peninsula, but the Pacific Rim and international stability,” Mr. Gates said.

Regarding China, Mr. Gates said that even as the U.S. military relationship between the two countries improves, at least one area of disagreement continues: “freedom of navigation.” That’s a euphemism for the U.S. view that it has the right to sail its ships in waters that China claims as restricted.

Freedom of shipping and commerce have been basic principles for the United States since its founding, Mr. Gates pointed out.

He also told students that China’s military sometimes does things without telling the country’s senior political leadership. The communist party has firm control over the military, but “sometimes there are disconnects,” Mr. Gates said.

“In the larger sense of who controls the Chinese military and who has the ultimate authority there is no doubt in my mind that it is President Hu Jintao and the senior civilian leadership of that country,” Mr. Gates said, adding the wider U.S. engagement with China he seeks could help cut through the communications problems between China’s military and political spheres.

“I believe we’ve seen instances where specific events take place where the Chinese senior leadership may not have known about them,” Mr. Gates said.

He mentioned this week’s flight test of the new J-20 stealth fighter as one such example. Mr. Gates said Mr. Hu did not appear to know about the test until Mr. Gates asked him about it.

“But on the whole, I do think this is something that is a worry,” Mr. Gates said.

He also made the case for the continued presence of tens of thousands of U.S. forces in Japan. U.S. military bases on the southern island of Okinawa have become increasingly unpopular because of noise, crowding and the perception that the U.S. takes Japan for granted.

Most of the 49,000 U.S. forces in Japan are based on Okinawa.

But without those forces, “North Korea’s military provocations could be even more outrageous,” Mr. Gates said.

Story Continues →