Trump escalates war of words with North Korea

President Trump doubled down on his inflammatory 'fire and fury' warning to North Korea Thursday, saying maybe he had not been tough enough in the face of the rising threat.

World leaders call for restraint, saying that rhetoric from both sides is increasing tension

Showing no let-up in his war of words, US President Donald Trump warned North Korea in a tweet yesterday: "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully, Kim Jong Un will find another path!"

Speaking to reporters after a high level security meeting on Thursday, Mr Trump had said Mr Kim, the North's leader, could no longer get away with threatening the United States.

Flanked by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Vice-President Mike Pence, he said: "He (Kim) has disrespected our country greatly... and with me, he is not getting away with it."

Referring to the Korean People's Army (KPA) statement that it is developing a plan to fire missiles to land around Guam, where the US has military bases, Mr Trump said: "Let's see what he does with Guam. If he does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody has seen before - what will happen in North Korea."

After days of heated words unnerved investors, wiping out US$1 trillion (S$1.36 trillion) from global stock markets, US stock indices opened high in early morning trading yesterday.

Experts warned that annual joint US-South Korea military exercises scheduled for Aug 21-31 could, in the current atmosphere, raise the risk of miscommunication and accidents.

Government leaders and officials all called for restraint.

B-1B strategic bombers at Andersen Air Force Base near Yigo, Guam, on Thursday. Experts warned that joint US-South Korea military exercises later this month could raise the risk of miscommunication and accidents.
B-1B strategic bombers at Andersen Air Force Base near Yigo, Guam, on Thursday. Experts warned that joint US-South Korea military exercises later this month could raise the risk of miscommunication and accidents. PHOTO: EPA

'NOT A DARE'

He is not going to go around threatening Guam and he is not going to threaten the United States and he is not going to threaten Japan, and he is not going to threaten South Korea. No, that is not a dare, as you say. That is a statement of fact.

US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, in response to a question on whether his warnings to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un were a "dare".

 
 
 
 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, asked about Mr Trump's latest tweet, called the escalation of words the wrong response, and said she opposed the use of force on the Korean peninsula: "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."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the rhetoric from Washington and Pyongyang was "going over the top", adding that Moscow hoped common sense would prevail.

Earlier yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China hoped the relevant parties would speak and act cautiously, do more to ease tension and enhance trust.

They should not take the "old path of taking turns to demonstrate their strength, causing tension to escalate unceasingly", he added.

Despite the amped-up rhetoric though, some analysts see room for a diplomatic way out. North Korea has room to back down, while US Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have, in careful statements, also left the door to diplomacy open.

"What we are doing is a diplomatically led effort that is succeeding in drawing the international community together and speaking with one voice," Mr Mattis said on Thursday, referring to new United Nations sanctions imposed on Pyongyang.

"Do I have military options? Of course I do. That is my responsibility, to have those. We want to use diplomacy. But at the same time, our defences are... robust."

The Washington Post quoted Dr Cheong Seong Chang, an expert on the North Korean leadership at the Sejong Institute in South Korea, as saying: "North Korea is not developing ICBM technology to start a war with the US. This is all about preventing the US from intervening in any military conflict on the Korean peninsula."

Dr Balbina Hwang, visiting professor at Georgetown University, noted the North "is not suicidal".

"It has backed down every time the US has shown an overt threat of force," she told The Straits Times.

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Trump doubles down on warning to North Korea. str.sg/4Ksn

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2017, with the headline 'Trump escalates war of words with North Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe