South Korean and Japanese jets joined exercises with two supersonic US B-1B bombers in a show of strength above the Korean peninsula on Thursday, two days after North Korea fired a missile over Japan.
The drills, which included four US stealth F-35B jets, came at the end of annual US-South Korea military exercises involving thousands of troops and computer simulations based around a potential invasion from the North.
On Thursday, North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, denounced the military drills, calling them “the rash act of those taken aback” by the missile test, which it described as “the first military operation in the Pacific.”
North Korea is known to be developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States and has threatened to fire missiles into the ocean near the US Pacific territory of Guam, which is home to military bases, including the air base where the B-1B bombers flew from.
“North Korea’s actions are a threat to our allies, partners and homeland, and their destabilising actions will be met accordingly,” said General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, Pacific Air Forces Commander, who made an unscheduled visit to Japan.
In upping the tension by firing a missile over Japan, North Korea did seemingly succeed in exposing a split in the US on how to deal with the threat.
US President Donald Trump declared on Twitter on Wednesday that “talking is not the answer” to resolving the crisis, while US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis quickly stressed diplomacy was needed.
Mattis later said he agreed that Washington “should not be talking right now to a nation that is firing missiles over the top of Japan, an ally.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders reiterated at a regular briefing on Thursday that all options – diplomatic, economic and military – remained on the table.
No video game
China repeated a call on Thursday for restraint by all parties.
Defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang told a monthly briefing China would never allow war or chaos on the Korean peninsula, its doorstep, and military means were not an option.
“China strongly demands all sides to exercise restraint and remain calm and not do anything to worsen tensions,” Ren said, adding that Chinese forces were maintaining a normal state of alert along the North Korean border.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the situation on the peninsula was serious.
“The current tense situation on the peninsula isn’t a screenplay or a video game,” she told reporters.
“It’s real, and is an immense and serious issue that directly involves the safety of people from both the north and south of the peninsula, as well as peace and stability of the entire region.”
France’s foreign minister on Friday agreed on the seriousness of the situation and urged China to act diplomatically to resolve the crisis.
“The situation is extremely serious… we see North Korea setting itself as an objective to have tomorrow or the day after missiles that can transport nuclear weapons. In a few months that will be a reality,” minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio.
Le Drian, who spoke to his Chinese counterpart on Thursday, said everything had to be done to ensure a latest round of United Nations sanctions was implemented and urged China, Pyongyang’s main trade partner, to do its utmost to enforce them.
“North Korea must find the path to negotiations,” he said.
The 15-member UN Security Council on Tuesday said the firing of the missile over Japan was “outrageous” and demanded that North Korea halt its weapons program. But the US-drafted statement did not threaten new sanctions.
Japan has urged Washington to propose new sanctions, which diplomats said could target North Koreans working overseas and sending money back to the regime, oil supplies and textile exports.
However, diplomats expect resistance from Russia and fellow veto-wielding power China, particularly as new measures were only announced on August 5 after North Korea tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July.
A US ban on travel by Americans to North Korea comes into effect on Friday, a step announced after the death of a US student shortly after his release from a 15-year prison sentence in the country, where three other Americans are still detained.