TOKYO — As North Korea conducted live-fire drills Tuesday and South Korea, Japan and the United States carried out their own military exercises, the White House said there is still room for a diplomatic resolution.
“The more that we can solve this diplomatically and continue to apply pressure on China and other countries to use the political and economic tools that they have to achieve a goal in stabilization in the region, but also to tamp down the threat that North Korea faces, I think that that is something that we all share,” said White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
Spicer said the cordial meeting Trump had with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida this month was “paying off dividends.” He boasted that “this president’s relationships that he’s building with heads of government is clearly reestablishing America’s place in the world and getting results for the country.”
At the same time, one of the largest U.S. guided-missile submarines showed up in the South Korean port of Busan, presaging the imminent arrival in the region of a naval strike group led by an aircraft carrier. And Kim Jong Un’s regime marked the 85th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s army Tuesday 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 preemptive nuclear attacks,” Defense Minister Pak Yong Sik said in a televised speech before a hall filled with the country’s top brass.
Analysts had been concerned that North Korea might seek to mark important dates this month — the birthday of the state’s founder was celebrated with a huge military parade on April 15 — with a nuclear or ballistic missile test. North Korea did launch a missile on April 16, but it exploded within seconds.
But on the latest anniversary Tuesday, the North instead conducted large-scale live-fire drills near Wonsan on its east coast, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said.
The South’s Yonhap News Agency reported that the exercises were North Korea’s largest to date, involving some 300 or 400 pieces of artillery, but the joint chiefs did not confirm the number.
Analysts warned against reading too much into the exercises with conventional weaponry, noting that North Korea’s annual winter training cycle culminates in big exercises every year around this time.
Still, North Korea remains defiant despite mounting pressure from the Trump administration and, increasingly, China to stop its missile program.
“China has a very, very important role to play” to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions, Joseph Yun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, told reporters in Tokyo.
Yun met with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts Tuesday in Tokyo, and China’s main point man on North Korea was also in town, in a sign that diplomacy is not entirely dead.
“We agreed that we will strongly warn that North Korea should stop further strategic provocations,” said Kim Hong-kyun, South Korea’s representative. “But we will take strong punitive action that the North could not bear if it pushes ahead with one despite the warning.”
New York, the U.N. Security Council scheduled a special ministerial meeting Friday to discuss further sanctions on the regime in Pyongyang.
But with increasingly provocative statements and actions coming from North Korea, the emphasis is on military deterrence.
A Navy destroyer, the USS Wayne E. Meyer, began maritime exercises Tuesday with a South Korean destroyer in the Yellow Sea, west of the Korean Peninsula. Separately, another destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, was conducting drills with a Japanese destroyer in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, east of the Korean Peninsula. The two exercises were scheduled to continue Wednesday.
“Both exercises demonstrate a shared commitment to security and stability in Northeast Asia,” the U.S. 7th Fleet said in a statement, “as well as the U.S. Navy’s inherent flexibility to combine with allied naval forces in response to a broad range of situations.”
Earlier, the Navy announced that the USS Michigan, an Ohio-class guided-missile submarine, had arrived in Busan “for a regularly scheduled port visit.”
The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, together with two guided-missile destroyers and a cruiser, are expected to arrive in the waters off the Korean Peninsula in the next few days and stage a combined tactical operation with the South Korean navy.
On Wednesday, the White House will hold a briefing on the North Korea situation for all 100 senators.