US President Donald Trump is said to have called his counterparts in China and Japan on Monday morning in Asia to discuss a response to North Korea this week if it once again violates UN directives by testing a nuclear weapon or missiles.
The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and other naval vessels carrying guided missiles are in the region and may be joined by the South Korean navy. Two Japanese destroyers also recently sailed with the US carrier group in the western Pacific.
The show of force didn’t go unnoticed in Pyongyang, which threatened to sink the carrier, which it likened to a “gross animal.”
“Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a US nuclear powered aircraft carrier with a single strike,” the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in a commentary.
Still, it wasn’t front page news. The commentary was carried on page three, after a two-page feature about leader Kim Jong-un inspecting a pig farm.
North Korea will mark the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday. It has in the past marked important anniversaries with tests of its weapons.
North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, two of them last year, and is reportedly working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the US. It has also carried out a series of ballistic missile tests in defiance of United Nations sanctions.
North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting Trump. He has said all options are on the table to halt the North’s nuclear program, including a military strike.
North Korea says its nuclear program is for self-defense and has warned the US of a nuclear attack in response to any aggression. It has also threatened to lay waste to South Korea and Japan.
Japan’s show of naval force reflects growing concern that North Korea could strike it with nuclear or chemical warheads.
Some Japanese ruling party lawmakers are urging Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to acquire strike weapons that could hit North Korean missile launchers before any attack.
Japan’s navy, which is mostly a destroyer fleet, is the largest in Asia after China’s.
The two Japanese warships, the Samidare and Ashigara, left western Japan on Friday to join the Carl Vinson and practice tactics with the US strike group, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force said in a statement.
US and South Korean officials have been saying for weeks that the North could soon stage another nuclear test, something the US, China and others have warned against.
South Korea has put is forces on heightened alert. Japan’s government has started issuing directions to the public on websites on what to do in the event of a ballistic missile attack.
China, North Korea’s sole major ally which nevertheless opposes Pyongyang’s weapons programs, has appealed for calm.
The US has called on China to put more pressure on North Korea through economic sanctions to get it to halt its nuclear program and threats to neighboring countries.