Militaries flex muscle in Korean peninsula

Diplomatic activity also picks up to defuse crisis as US, North Korea hold military drills

The nuclear-powered submarine USS Michigan approaches a naval base in the southeastern port of Busan, South Korea.
The nuclear-powered submarine USS Michigan approaches a naval base in the southeastern port of Busan, South Korea.PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON • The US and North Korea showed off their military prowess yesterday as nations in the region stepped up diplomatic talks to defuse a brewing crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

The nuclear-powered USS Michigan, one of four Ohio-class guided missile submarines capable of launching cruise missiles, arrived at the South Korean port of Busan "for a regularly scheduled port visit", US Naval Forces Korea said in a statement.

Separately, a US navy destroyer, the USS Wayne E. Meyer, began maritime exercises with a South Korean destroyer west of the Korean peninsula yesterday. And the USS Fitzgerald was holding drills with a Japanese destroyer east of the Korean peninsula. Both sets of exercises will continue today.

A US aircraft carrier strike group is also expected to arrive in the waters off the Korean peninsula in the next few days.

In a further sign that something major could be brewing, top US officials will hold a rare briefing today at the White House for the entire US Senate on the situation in North Korea. All 100 senators have been asked to the White House for the briefing by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defence James Mattis, National Intelligence director Dan Coats and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Reuters reported aides as saying.


Meanwhile, North Korea marked a military anniversary yesterday with a massive artillery firing drill, which the South's Yonhap news agency cited a government source as saying was the North's "largest ever" and was presumed to have been overseen by leader Kim Jong Un.

His regime marked the 85th anniversary of the founding of North Korea's army yesterday with its typical bluster. "If the enemies dare opt for the military adventure despite our repeated warnings, our armed forces will wipe the strongholds of aggression off the surface of the earth through powerful pre-emptive nuclear attacks," Defence Minister Pak Yong Sik said.

Top nuclear envoys from Japan, South Korea and the United States met yesterday in Tokyo and vowed "stern action" against any fresh North Korean provocations.

Mr Wu Dawei, China's envoy on North Korea, was also scheduled to arrive in Japan for a four-day visit, Japan's Foreign Ministry said.

Matching the flurry of diplomatic and military activity in Asia, the State Department in Washington said on Monday that Mr Tillerson would chair a special ministerial meeting of the United Nations Security Council on North Korea on Friday.

On Monday, US President Donald Trump called for tougher UN sanctions on the North, saying it was a global threat and "a problem that we have to finally solve".

"The status quo in North Korea is also unacceptable," he told a meeting with the 15 UN Security Council ambassadors at the White House.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said those meetings clearly reflected the US pressure that could "ignite a full-out war" on the Korean peninsula.

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Washington and the international community were maintaining pressure on Mr Kim but were "not trying to pick a fight with him".

Asked whether a pre-emptive strike was under consideration, she told NBC's Today programme: "We are not going to do anything unless he gives us reason to do something."

China's help was ramping up pressure on Mr Kim, she added.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang again called for restraint yesterday, saying the situation on the Korean peninsula was "complex and sensitive".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2017, with the headline 'Militaries flex muscle in Korean peninsula'. Print Edition | Subscribe