US Vice President Mike Pence stressed on Wednesday that Washington would work with its allies and China to pressure North Korea, but added that America would not hesitate to retaliate to any attack against it.
Pence arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday from South Korea and reassured Japan of US commitment to reining in North Korea’s nuclear and missile ambitions in a series of meetings with Japanese leaders, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
He promised that the US would defeat any North Korean attack with an “overwhelming response”.
Speaking aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz class aircraft carrier undergoing scheduled maintenance at its home port of Yokosuka, Pence said US intentions remained unwavering in the face of the threat posed by the reclusive North, which has conducted a series of missile and nuclear tests in defiance of UN sanctions, most recently with a failed missile launch on Sunday.
“Those who would challenge our resolve or readiness should know, we will defeat any attack and beat any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective American response,” Pence said to loud applause, reiterating that all options are on the table in dealing with Pyongyang.
Pence made his remarks as the White House grappled with controversy over the location of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group that US President Donald Trump said last week had been sent to near the Korean peninsula as a warning to North Korea, but which headed towards Australia instead.
Pence did not mention the Carl Vinson or the controversy.
Pence said he had spoken with Trump and by 2020 some 60 percent of the US naval fleet would be in the region and Japan’s role would grow.
“The United States will strengthen its presence in the Asia Pacific,” he said. “Japan will assume a larger role and responsibility in our alliance in the years ahead.”
The vice president said the US would honor its alliance with Pacific Rim nations and protect freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the sea lanes vital to global shipping where China has been staking claim to disputed territory.
Speaking from Saudi Arabia, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis denounced Pyongyang’s attempted missile launch, telling reporters: “The leader of North Korea again recklessly tried to provoke something by launching a missile.”
The term “reckless” is one the North Koreans have used to describe ongoing large-scale US and South Korean military exercises, which the North calls a dress rehearsal for an invasion.
Mattis did not identify the type of missile but said it was not of intercontinental range, meaning it could not reach US territory. He did not comment on what might have caused the missile to fail.
A senior North Korean official said in an interview with the BBC this week that Pyongyang would conduct missile tests “on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis”, and any military action against it by the United States would prompt “all-out war”.
North Korea’s deputy representative to the United Nations, Kim In Ryong, accused the United States on Monday of creating “a situation where nuclear war could break out an any time” and said the North’s next nuclear test would take place “at a time and at a place where our headquarters deems necessary”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said all parties should make efforts to resolve the situation.
The situation was tense and China was resolutely opposed to any words or actions that could further raise tension, he added.
North Korea regularly threatens to destroy Japan, South Korea and the United States and it showed no let-up in its belligerence after the failed missile test on Sunday, a day after putting on a huge display of missiles at a parade in Pyongyang.
Pence heads for Indonesia later on Wednesday.