Pence talks on trade in Japan overshadowed by threat of war

US vice-president says ‘all options on table’ in response to nuclear threat from North Korea

At a recent military parade, North Korea displayed several missiles at a time of heightened tensions with the United States. Here's a closer look at what some of them are designed to do. Video: New York Times

 

US vice-president Mike Pence has again hinted at the use of military force to deal with North Korea’s accelerating nuclear weapons programme, warning that: “all options are on the table”.

Mr Pence arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday fresh from a pilgrimage to the Demilitarised Zone dividing the Korean Peninsula, where he pledged to bring Pyongyang to heel and stabilise the region “by whatever means are necessary”.

A strike fleet, led by the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson, has been dispatched to the area. China and Russia have reportedly responded by sending their own ships to shadow the American armada.

During a working lunch with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, Mr Pence said his government stood with Japan “100 per cent” in the face of what he called “provocation” from its reclusive neighbour across the sea.

“The era of strategic patience is over and while all options are on the table, President [Donald] Trump is determined to work closely with Japan, with South Korea, with all our allies in the region and with China to achieve a peaceable resolution and the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”, he later told reporters.

Mr Pence is in Tokyo to discuss trade with Taro Aso, Japan’s deputy prime minister. Mr Trump has repeatedly expressed unhappiness at the weakening yen and Japan’s $63 billion (€59 billion) trade surplus with the United States.

Whiff of protectionism

Mr Pence wants Japan to do more to open up its markets to American goods and may seek a two-way deal. “Today we are beginning a process of economic dialogue, the end of which may result in bilateral trade negotiations in the future,” he said.

But it is the spectre of a real war, not the trade variety that haunts the vice-president’s 10-day tour of Asia, which includes pit stops in Indonesia and Australia.

North Korea’s deputy UN ambassador, Kim In-ryong, accused Washington on Monday of creating “a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment”.

Pyongyang has repeatedly thumbed its nose at US demands to halt its nuclear and missile tests and ignored a warning from Mr Pence this week to “not test” the United States.

Experts say the North may soon carry out its sixth nuclear test. It responded to America’s latest threats by firing a missile on Sunday, which exploded seconds later.

The country’s vice-foreign minister Han Song-ryol told the BBC that any military action by America would trigger an “all out war”. “We’ll be conducting more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis,” he said.

Privately, Japanese diplomats say Washington is trying to put pressure on the North, and on its main trade partner China, to end the missile launches. But the strategy runs the risk of miscalculation by either side.