North Korea says ready to strike US aircraft carrier

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North Korea said on Sunday it was ready to sink a US aircraft carrier to demonstrate its military might, as two Japanese navy ships joined a US carrier group for exercises in the western Pacific.

US President Donald Trump ordered the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to sail to waters off the Korean peninsula in response to rising tension over the North’s nuclear and missile tests, and its threats to attack the United States and its Asian allies.

The United States has not specified where the carrier strike group is as it approaches the area. US Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday it would arrive “within days” but gave no other details. North Korea remained defiant.

“Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike,” the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in a commentary.

The paper likened the aircraft carrier to a “gross animal” and said a strike on it would be “an actual example to show our military’s force”.

The commentary was carried on page three of the newspaper, after a two-page feature about leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a pig farm.

Speaking during a visit to Greece, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there were already enough shows of force and confrontation at present and appealed for calm.

“We need to issue peaceful and rational sounds,” Wang said, according to a statement issued by China’s Foreign Ministry.

Adding to the tensions, North Korea detained a Korean-American man in his fifties, bringing the total number of US citizens held by Pyongyang to three.

The man, Tony Kim, had been in North Korea for a month teaching accounting at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the institution’s chancellor Chan-Mo Park told Reuters. He was arrested at Pyongyang International Airport on his way out of the country.

The arrest took place on Saturday morning local time, the university said in a statement, and was “related to an investigation into matters that are not connected in any way to PUST”.

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 working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.

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 vowed to prevent the North from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile and has said all options are on the table, including a military strike.

Worry in Japan

North Korea says its nuclear programme is for self-defence and has warned the United States of a nuclear attack in response to any aggression. It has also threatened to lay waste to South Korea and Japan.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday North Korea’s recent statements were provocative but had proven to be hollow in the past and should not be trusted.

“We’ve all come to hear their words repeatedly; their word has not proven honest,” Mattis told a news conference in Tel Aviv, before the latest threat to the aircraft carrier.

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 forces before any imminent attack.

Japan’s navy, which is mostly a destroyer fleet, is the second 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 will “practice a variety of tactics” with the U.S. strike group, the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force said in a statement.

The Japanese force did not specify where the exercises were taking place, but by Sunday the destroyers could have reached an area 2,500 km (1,500 miles) south of Japan, which would be east of the Philippines.

From there, it could take three days to reach waters off the Korean peninsula. Japan’s ships would accompany the Carl Vinson north at least into the East China Sea, a source with knowledge of the plan said.

US and South Korean officials have been saying for weeks that the North could soon stage another nuclear test, something the United States, China and others have warned against.

South Korea has put its forces on heightened alert.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally, opposes Pyongyang’s weapons programmes and has appealed for calm. The United States has called on China to do more to help defuse the tension.

Last Thursday, Trump praised Chinese efforts to rein in “the menace of North Korea”, after North Korean state media warned the United States of a “super-mighty pre-emptive strike”.

Chinese bombers ‘on high alert’

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un attends a target-striking contest by the Korean People's Army
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un attends a target-striking contest by the Korean People’s Army CREDIT: REUTERS/KCNA

North Korea’s neighbours continued to amass substantial amounts of military hardware in the region on Friday as tensions escalated ahead of a major military anniversary for Kim Jong-un’s regime next week.

There were reports of increased activity from Chinese bombers and Russia deploying troops to its Far East while South Korea was put on heightened alert ahead of 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday.

With regional analysts fearing that the North’s defiant young dictator will order another missile or nuclear test to mark the occasion, South Korea announced it was placing its forces in a state of heightened alert.

The build-up of tension come as a US aircraft carrier navy group continued to move towards Korean waters, amid reports that the heads of the Five Eyes intelligence agencies – the US, UK, Austrialia, Canada and New Zealand – were to hold their annual meeting in a secluded New Zealand mountain resort.

US officials said Chinese bombers had been put on “high alert” in order to react to a potential crisis on the Korean peninsula, several reports said.

The steps would bring the aircraft up to “full readiness through intensified maintenance,” and would “reduce the time to react to a North Korea contingency,” reported CNN, citing a US defence official.

The move was swiftly denied by Beijing.

It comes after US president Donald Trump cryptically told the media on Thursday that “some very unusual moves have been made over the last two or three hours” by the Chinese.

Mr Trump also said he was confident Chinese President Xi Jinping would “try very hard” to pressure North Korea over its nuclear and missile programmes.

Observers believe Mr Trump’s confrontational stance towards North Korea is aimed at pressuring China into reining in its wayward neighbour.

He tweeted on Friday: “China is very much the economic lifeline to North Korea so, while nothing is easy, if they want to solve the North Korean problem, they will.”

Chinese media has suggested in recent weeks that Beijing could halt the supply of crude oil to North Korea, a move that would put huge pressure on Kim’s regime.

But an influential Chinese newspaper said on Friday that China cannot force North Korea to give up its weapons without help from other nations.

The state-run China Daily said: “No party can fulfill the mission single-handedly. Washington must be aware of the limitations to Beijing’s abilities, and refrain from assuming that the matter can be consigned entirely to Beijing alone.”

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping
Donald Trump and Xi Jinping CREDIT: AP

Fears are growing in the region that any provocation from Pyongyang could prompt a strong response from Mr Trump, whose administration has declared on multiple occasions that the era of “strategic patience” was over.

The Kremlin refused to discuss reports that Russian military hardware and troops were being moved towards the border with North Korea.

Residents and local media in Russia’s Far East reported large military convoys travelling in the direction of the North Korean border since the weekend.

A video published by local news site DVHab.ru showed a train carrying twelve tracked vehicles, including Tor surface to air missile systems, travelling through Khabarovsk in the direction of Vladivostok.

Earlier reports in South Korean media that China had sent 150,000 troops to its border with North Korea were dismissed by Beijing last wee.

Beijing fears any potential conflict in the region would result in pro-US troops on its border, and also cause a huge refugee crisis in its north-east.

South Korean officials said it was prepared if Pyongyang provoked hostilities amid the escalating tensions.

“It is a situation where a lot of exercise equipment is amassed in North Korea and also a lot of strategic assets are situated on the Korean peninsula because of the South Korea-US military drills,” said a spokesman in Seoul.

“We are closely watching the situation and will not be letting our guards down.”

North Korea on ‘maximum alert’ ,US on blind way

Pyongyang tells Washington its nuclear weapons are ‘not an illusion’ following US threats.

North Korea has warned its army is on “maximum alert” after the US vice president visited the heavily militarised border between the two Koreas and reiterated Washington’s position that “all options are on the table” in dealing with Pyongyang.

Sin Hong-chol, North Korea’s deputy foreign minister, told Al Jazeera in an exclusive interview on Monday that Donald Trump’s administration “should look at the world with open eyes”.

“The time of dictating orders by brandishing the US military might has gone. If those businessmen in power in the US thought of intimidating us by any military or sanction threats – as the [Barack] Obama administration used to do and failed – they will soon find out such threats are useless,” Sin said.

“If we notice any sign of assault on our sovereignty, our army will launch merciless military strikes against the US aggressors, wherever they may exist, from the remote US lands to the American military bases on the Korean peninsula, such as those of Japan and elsewhere.”

Sin also said the six-nation talks aiming to make the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons were “throttled at birth”.

“The nuclear weapon in our possession is not illusion; it is not a commodity that may be traded for American dollars – nor is it for sale. So it cannot be put on the negotiating table with the aim to rip it off,” he said.

Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington have soared in recent weeks, as a series of North Korean missile tests have wrought ever-more bellicose warnings from Donald Trump‘s administration.

On Monday, US Vice President Mike Pence – visiting the world’s most heavily militarised border that divides the two Koreas – hinted military options against the North have not been ruled out.

“The people of North Korea, the military of North Korea should not mistake the resolve of the United States of America to stand with our allies,” Pence said, adding “the era of strategic patience is over”.

“All options are on the table as we continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of South Korea,” he said from the village of Panmunjom, inside the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ).

On Sunday, Pyongyang conducted its latest missile test, which the US and South Korea said crashed in failure after only a few seconds upon launch.

The Trump administration has indicated it will not allow North Korea to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the western United States.

Pyongyang insists it needs a powerful arsenal – including atomic weapons – to protect itself from what it says is the ever-present threat of invasion by hostile US forces.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Seoul, Korea specialist and author Donald Kirk noted the rhetoric between the rivals continues to escalate and a “violent confrontation” was a real possibility.

“Certainly the tension level is very high. Vice President Pence talked very tough today… He left open the possibility of a pre-emptive strike,” said Kirk.

Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington go back to the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. But the heat has been rising rapidly since Trump took office in January.

The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier has been diverted back to the waters off the Korean peninsula after heading for Australia , and US satellite imagery suggests the North could conduct another underground nuclear test at any time.