North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People’s Army. (Via Reuters)
This week, tensions between the United States and North Korea hit a boiling point.
Things ratcheted up Tuesday when President Trump told reporters that the United States would respond with “fire and fury the likes the world has never seen” if Pyongyang continues its provocations. (He later suggested that his world-rattling words might not have been “tough enough.”) Those comments came in response to U.S. intelligence reports suggesting that Pyongyang had the capacity to fit a nuclear weapon to a long-range ballistic missile.
On Wednesday, North Korea struck back, calling Trump’s statement a “load of nonsense,” and accusing the U.S. president of being senile and spending too much time on golf. The country also warned that it is working on a plan to deploy four missiles that would envelope Guam, a U.S. territory with several American bases, in a wall of fire.
Though senior U.S. officials rushed to calm Americans and allies, the president did little to cool tensions Thursday, announcing that his administration is reviewing its options and that the military is “locked and loaded,” ready to #fighttonight.
Here’s a look at how other countries are responding to this tense situation:
In the past, China has tried to act as something of a mediator between the United States and North Korea, urging restraint and caution on both sides. As The Washington Post’s China correspondent reported, “China has become deeply frustrated with the regime in Pyongyang, and genuinely wants to see a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. But it has always refused to do anything that might destabilize or topple a regime which has long been both ally and buffer state . … That’s because Beijing does not want to see a unified Korean state allied to the United States on its border: Indeed, hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers died during the 1950-53 Korean War to prevent that from happening.”
But on Friday, Beijing said in no uncertain terms that it would not come to North Korea’s defense if the Hermit Kingdom launched a preemptive strike against the United States. An editorial in the state-run Global Times reads, in part, “if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral. … If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has long argued for a tougher line on North Korea, pushing to strengthen Japan’s military and antimissile defense. In recent days, Abe and other senior officials have reiterated their support of the U.S. president’s strategy. Trump is “putting all options on the table,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. “Our government approves of that stance. It’s extremely important that the Japan-U.S. alliance further strengthens its ability to deter and respond.”
That might not sit so well with Japan’s electorate, which largely does not share Abe’s bellicose position. “If it looks like the U.S. set off the chain of events that led to escalation, and Abe didn’t use his relationship with Trump to moderate that, it’s easy to imagine that there would be a domestic price to pay,” Tobias Harris, a Japan analyst at Teneo Intelligence, told the New York Times.
On Friday, South Korea said that the country’s national security adviser had been in touch with his American counterpart and had been assured that the White House will not do anything on the Korean Peninsula that would “catch the South off guard.” “Both South Korea and the United States reaffirmed their promise that as they take step-by-step measures to ensure their security and the safety of their peoples, they will coordinate with each other closely and transparently,” a statement from presidential spokesman Park Soo-hyun said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Friday that Russia will not accept a nuclear North Korea. But he blamed the current tensions on the United States and Kim Jong Un’s regime, saying that there has been an “overwhelming amount” of “belligerent rhetoric” from Washington and Pyongyang. Lavrov also advocated for his country’s preferred solution to the crisis — a “smart plan” developed by Russia and China that would have Kim freeze his country’s nuclear tests in exchange for the United States and South Korea freezing their large-scale drills.
Live on state television, Lavrov said that “there are direct threats of deploying [military] power” and that “the side that is stronger and cleverer” will take the first step to defuse tensions.
In a statement to 3AW, an Australian radio station, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that if North Korea launches an attack on the United States, Australia will have our back. “America stands by its allies, including Australia of course, and we stand by the United States,” Turnbull said, according to ABC. “Be very, very clear on that. If there’s an attack on the U.S., the ANZUS Treaty would be invoked and Australia would come to the aid of the United States, as America would come to our aid if we were attacked.”
He also called on Kim’s regime to stop its “illegal, reckless, provocative conduct.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the escalation of rhetoric “the wrong answer.” She has pledged her country’s support to “any nonmilitary solutions,” telling reporters in Berlin: “I don’t see a military solution to this conflict . … I see the need for enduring work at the U.N. Security Council … as well as tight cooperation between the countries involved, especially the U.S. and China.”
Guam Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo has endeavored to calm nerves and reassure the island’s 160,000 citizens that they’re safe. In a video address, he said, “There is no change in the threat level resulting from North Korea events” and that “there are several levels of defense, all strategically placed to protect our island and our nation.” But Guam also released a two-page pamphlet advising residents on how to react to a North Korean strike.
“Our island has been a target since 2013, and even before that,” Dee Cruz, a senior watch officer with Guam Homeland Security, told The Post. “We’re ready, and prepared, as much as possible.”
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