WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Friday once again upped the ante in his war of words with North Korea, warning Pyongyang that the US military is “locked and loaded” in the event of a misstep by the totalitarian state.
Ignoring appeals from China for restraint, Trump launched another rhetorical salvo at the North to keep its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs in check.
The latest Twitter threat from the Republican billionaire leader, who took office in January, came as concerns swelled worldwide that a miscalculation by either side could trigger a catastrophic conflict on the Korean peninsula.
“Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!” Trump wrote from his golf club retreat in New Jersey, where he is spending two weeks.
Earlier Friday in Beijing, China — Pyongyang’s main diplomatic ally — had urged Trump and Kim to tone down the saber-rattling.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang called on both sides to avoid “going down the old path of alternately showing strength and continuously escalating the situation.”
“We call on the relevant parties to be cautious with their words and actions, and contribute more toward easing tensions and enhancing mutual trust,” Geng said in a statement.
– Warnings from China, Germany –
Beijing has repeatedly called for a resumption of long-dormant six-party talks to peacefully resolve the mounting tensions, but its position has been overshadowed by the emerging game of brinkmanship between Trump and Kim.
China’s proposal for North Korea to suspend its weapons programs in exchange for a suspension of military drills by the United States and South Korea — seen by Pyongyang as provocative — has essentially been ignored.
Trump has progressively ramped up the tone throughout the week — after brandishing a threat of unleashing “fire and fury” on North Korea, he said Thursday maybe that statement “wasn’t tough enough.”
He also warned Pyongyang it should be “very, very nervous” of the consequences if it even thinks of attacking US soil, after Kim’s regime said it was readying plans to launch missiles towards the US Pacific territory of Guam.
Trump also called on China to “do a lot more” to pressure Kim to end his nuclear-armed country’s weapons and missile programs.
Also on Thursday, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis appeared to step back from his boss’s dire rhetoric, describing the prospect of war as “catastrophic” and saying diplomatic efforts to solve the North Korea nuclear crisis were working.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined an intensifying chorus of calls for restraint, saying diplomacy was the answer.
“Germany will very intensively take part in the options for resolution that are not military but I consider a verbal escalation to be the wrong response,” she said.
Nearly a week ago, the UN Security Council unanimously passed fresh sanctions against Pyongyang over its weapons program, including export bans, a new punishment that could cost North Korea $1 billion a year.
– ‘Bereft of reason’ –
Relations between Washington and Pyongyang have been tense for months, in the wake of the North’s repeated missile tests, including two successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test launches in July that brought much of the US mainland within range.
The region is facing “a mini Cuban missile crisis,” John Delury, a professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University, told AFP.
The tough talk has caused global markets to plunge this week.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula also tend to increase when Seoul and Washington launch major military joint exercises, and the next, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, is set to kick off around August 21.
North Korea raised hackles in the United States when it announced a detailed plan to send four missiles over Japan and towards Guam, an island territory of some 165,000 people, where some 6,000 US soldiers are based.
Pyongyang said the scheme to target the island, a key US military outpost in the western Pacific, was intended to “signal a crucial warning” as “only absolute force” would have an effect on a US leader “bereft of reason.”
In a pointed warning from China, a state-run newspaper said Friday that Beijing should not intervene on Pyongyang’s side if it triggered a conflict.
Beijing should “make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten US soil first and the US retaliates, China will stay neutral,” the nationalistic Global Times said in an editorial.
– ‘Tragedy of war’ –
Mattis appeared intent on dialing back the tension, explaining his mission and responsibility was to have military options ready “should they be needed” but stressing the US effort is currently focused on diplomacy.
“The tragedy of war is well-enough known it doesn’t need another characterization beyond the fact that it would be catastrophic,” he added.
Calls nevertheless mounted in South Korea for Seoul to develop atomic weapons of its own in light of the situation, with the Korea Herald saying in an editorial: “Now is time to start reviewing nuclear armament.”—AFP