SEOUL • North Korea yesterday said 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.
The exercises - which also involve a US guided-missile cruiser and guided-missile destroyer - are being held in the Philippine Sea, said the US Navy, as the naval strike group "continued its northern transit in the Western Pacific". The drills are expected to last several days.
There have been mixed messages on the whereabouts of the strike group. US President Donald Trump had suggested that it was steaming towards North Korea when in fact it was sent towards Australia.
On Saturday, US Vice-President Mike Pence said in Sydney that the strike group would arrive in the body of water between the Korean peninsula and Japan "in a matter of days". Mr Pence has vowed an "overwhelming and effective" response to any North Korean attack as fears grow that Pyongyang may be preparing for another nuclear test.
Satellite images showed that North Korea appeared to have resumed work at its main nuclear test site, renewing concern that a nuclear test would be imminent, according to monitoring website 38 North.
Pyongyang celebrates another major holiday tomorrow, the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army.
Senior envoys from the United States, Japan and South Korea will meet in Tokyo tomorrow to discuss ways to defuse tensions, which have soared recently following a drumbeat of missile tests and fears that Pyongyang may be readying a sixth nuclear test.
The Trump administration has said that all options are on the table, including a military strike. But North Korea remains defiant and has threatened to hit back against any provocation.
The Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North's ruling Workers' Party, said in a commentary yesterday that its revolutionary forces "are combat-ready to sink a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike".
Pyongyang also threatened Australia with a nuclear strike, urging it to think twice before "blindly and zealously toeing the US line".
"If Australia persists in following the US' moves to isolate and stifle North Korea... this will be a suicidal act," a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
He spoke after Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called the hermit state a "serious threat". She also said the North Korean government "should invest in the welfare of its long-suffering citizens, rather than weapons of mass destruction".
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also urged China to do more to rein in its neighbour and ally Pyongyang.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Athens yesterday reiterated China's position that Beijing firmly supports the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
"China may not have the key to this solution... but we are happy that more sides are accepting our point of view," he told reporters in Athens after meeting his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES