The U.S. policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea has ended, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in South Korea on Friday quoted by Reuters, adding that military action would be “on the table” if North Korea elevated the threat level. Tillerson said that 20 years of trying to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program had “failed” and that he was visiting Asia “to exchange views on a new approach.”
Soon after Tillerson’s remarks, in a sign of mounting tensions, the North Korean Embassy held an extraordinary news conference in Beijing to blame the potential for nuclear war on the United States while vowing that its homegrown nuclear testing program will continue in self-defense, the WaPo added. North Korea has amassed a sizable nuclear stockpile and appears at the brink of being able to strike the U.S. mainland and American allies in Asia. The rising threat from the isolated military dictatorship has prompted the Trump administration to begin assessing its options for how to respond and serves as an early test for how the president will confront an increasingly volatile international situation.
“The joint military exercises by the hostile forces are aimed at preemptive strikes against the DPRK,” North Korean Embassy official Pak Myong-ho said, referring to the official name of his country, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “Therefore, the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula is under serious threat,” he said. “Now the situation is already on the brink of nuclear war.”
Pak said the exercises could “turn into real combat at any time.”
“I think it’s important to recognize that the political and diplomatic efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to the point of denuclearization have failed,” Tillerson said. “Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. We are exploring a new range of security and diplomatic measures. All options are on the table,” Tillerson told a news conference in Seoul and added that any North Korean actions that threatened the South would be met with “an appropriate response.”
“If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table,” Tillerson said when asked about military action.
The harshly worded warning came as Tillerson began his first Asian visit as secretary of state; after Japan and South Korea, he will travel to China on Saturday with a main focus on finding a “new approach” on North Korea after what he described as two decades of failed efforts to denuclearize the insular nation.
Tillerson also called on China to implement sanctions against North Korea and said there was no need for China to punish South Korea for deploying an advanced U.S. anti-missile system aimed at defending against North Korea. In recent weeks China has lashed out at the Korean deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system’s powerful radar, saying it is a threat to its security.
“We believe these actions are unnecessary and troubling,” Tillerson said, referring to what South Korea sees as Chinese retaliation in the form of business restrictions in response to the deployment of the missile system. “We also believe it is not the way for a regional power to help resolve what is a serious threat for everyone. So we hope China will alter its position on punishing South Korea. We hope they will work with us to eliminate the reason THAAD is required.”
Beijing suspended the operation of more than 50 Lotte Mart stores after the South Korean retail conglomerate agreed to sell land for Thaad, and ordered travel agents to stop selling tour packages to the nation.
“While we acknowledge China’s opposition, its economic retaliation against South Korea is inappropriate and troubling,” Tillerson said. “We ask China to refrain from such actions.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told the joint news conference the missile system was only intended to defend against North Korea, not any other country, although China clearly does not see it that way.
North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests and a series of missile launches since the beginning of last year. Last week, it launched four more ballistic missiles and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States. Meanwhile, China has resented U.S. pressure to do more on North Korea and says it is doing all it can but will not take steps to threatened the livelihoods of the North Korean people. Beijing has urged North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile tests and said South Korea and the United States should stop joint military exercises and seek talks instead.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reiterated that talks were the best way to resolve the problems of the Korean peninsula. “As a close neighbor of the peninsula, China has even more reason than any other country to care about the situation,” she told a briefing.
Hua also said the THAAD would “upset the regional strategic balance”. Its radar, with a range of more than 2,000 km (1,250 miles), meant it could cover a large part of China, far outside the scope of the threat South Korea faces, Hua said. “We do not oppose South Korean taking necessary measures to protect its security, but these measures cannot be based upon harming the security interests of South Korea’s friendly neighbor, China,” she said.
Meanwhile, as previewed one week ago, the odds of an unexpected North Korean WMD attack are rising. According to the Predata-Beyond Parallel concultancy’s prediction model, there was a 43% chance of North Korean WMD activity taking place in the next 14 days (as of last Friday), while in the next 23 days, there is a 62% chance for North Korean WMD activity. Beyond Parallel defines WMD activity as nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches. A military response by the US now looks increasingly probable.
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