Just hours after the spectacular failure of a North Korean rocket test, reports emerged that the US is considering a pre-emptive strike on North Korea’s nuclear facilities over fears China will not be able to contain the nation’s aggression.
As Vice-President Mike Pence touched down in Seoul to reassure allies that America would stand up to an increasingly belligerent North Korea, The Sunday Times reported that US military commanders were confident they had the intelligence necessary to accurately target the correct locations and the ability to destroy them.
The report said despite Donald Trump’s urging of China to help control the secretive nation, it may become America’s responsibility to take action.
The Vice-President’s plane landed in the South Korean capital on Sunday shortly after Pyongyang attempted to launch an unidentified missile from the port city of Sinpo that “blew up almost immediately”, according to US Pacific Command.
Mr Pence was briefed on the failed launch en route, CNN reported, citing administration officials. Senior US officials said military options were “already being assessed” in the face of rising threats from North Korea.
‘China must step up’
Amid rising tensions, Australia’s Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has called on China should exert “influence” over North Korea.
Mr Shorten also told reporters in Melbourne on Sunday he was grateful for the “strong presence” of the United States in the Pacific region.
“We do need, I think, countries in the region, including China, to exert what influence they have on North Korea,” he said.
“I think there’s a good opportunity here for a China to demonstrate in its emergence in the world that it can have a positive influence on its close neighbours.”
He declined to comment on whether US President Donald Trump’s online comments had been “incendiary”, instead stating the “provocative conduct” started with North Korea.
Missile test failure
With relations close to boiling point following North Korea’s condemnation of Mr Trump’s bombing of a Syrian airfield, the attempted show of strength is an embarrassment to Kim Jong-un, who had just celebrated the 105th birthday of late founding leader and “eternal president” Kim Il Sung with a large military parade in the capital Pyongyang.
Mr Pence, who will also visit Japan, Indonesia and Australia while in the region, said North Korea’s “provocation” was another reminder of the risks that US and South Korean service members face every day “in the defence of the freedom of the people of South Korea and the defence of America in this part of the world”.
Observers of the escalating crisis on the Korean Peninsula had anticipated another test, seeing it as a gesture of defiance by Kim Jong-un as a US naval battle group led by the mega-carrier USS Carl Vinson prepares to take up station off the coast.
Tension had escalated sharply in the region amid concerns that the reclusive North may soon conduct a sixth nuclear test or a ballistic missile test launch timed with the April 15 anniversary it calls the “Day of the Sun”.
The White House has said the arrival in the region of the Vinson naval task force was Mr Trump’s way of putting the North “on notice” that US military action against Pyongyang is a very real option.
Mr Trump has ordered a navy strike group flagshipped by a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to head to the region as a show of force as his officials assess tougher economic sanctions as well as military options against the North.
The North has warned of a nuclear strike against the United States if provoked.
– with agencies