The US will counter any North Korean attack with an “overwhelming and effective” response, Vice President Mike Pence has said.
He sounded the warning on Wednesday from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, docked in Yokosuka, Japan.
Pence is in the region to reassure US allies unnerved by North Korea’s ongoing missile programme, and its apparent readiness to carry out another banned nuclear test in its quest to develop an atomic weapon that can hit the US mainland.
Pence, whose Asia visit started in South Korea on Sunday, just hours after the reportedly failed launch by North Korea of what analysts said could have been a new missile, said the threat from North Korea was growing.
“North Korea is the most dangerous and urgent threat to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific,” he told the audience of American and Japanese military personnel.
He pledged to “defeat any attack and meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective American response”.
Pence’s comments come after a warning by a senior North Korean official that his government plans weekly tests and an “all-out war” if the US takes any action against it, and has no intention of going slow on its missile programme.
“If we notice any sign of assault on our sovereignty, our army will launch merciless military strikes against the US aggressors, wherever they may exist, from the remote US lands to the American military bases on the Korean Peninsula, such as those of Japan and elsewhere.”
That kind of rhetoric has unnerved allies in Japan and South Korea. Seoul, the South Korean capital, is within easy range of North Korean long-range artillery.
The US navy has said another aircraft carrier intended as a show of force to North Korea will arrive in the Sea of Japan next week.
The navy had said on April 8 that it was directing a naval strike group headed by the Vinson to “sail north,” as a “prudent measure” to deter North Korea.
And on April 11, Jim Mattis, the Pentagon chief, said the Vinson was “on her way up” to the peninsula.
The next day President Donald Trump said: “We are sending an armada. Very powerful.”
But at the time of the announcements, the ships had temporarily headed in the opposite direction, to the Indian Ocean, for military exercises with Australia.
Pence said the US would defend the right to freedom of navigation through the waterway, one of the most important shipping channels on the planet.
He also said more of the US’ most advanced military assets would be deployed to the Asia-Pacific.
Approximately 47,000 US troops are stationed in Japan and a further 28,000 in South Korea.