TOKYO U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday that Washington would work with its allies and China to put economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea but added that America would defeat any attack with an "overwhelming response".
Pence arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday from South Korea and reassured Japan of U.S. commitment to reining in North Korea's nuclear and missile ambitions in a series of meetings with Japanese leaders, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Speaking aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz class aircraft carrier undergoing scheduled maintenance at its home port of Yokosuka, Pence said U.S. intentions remained unwavering in the face of the threat posed by the reclusive North, which has conducted a series of missile and nuclear tests in defiance of U.N. sanctions, most recently with a failed missile launch on Sunday.
"Those who would challenge our resolve or readiness should know, we will defeat any attack and beat any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective American response," Pence said to loud applause, reiterating that all options are on the table in dealing with Pyongyang.
Pence made his remarks as the White House grappled with controversy over the location of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group that U.S. President Donald Trump said last week had been sent to near the Korean peninsula as a warning to North Korea, but which headed towards Australia instead.
Pence did not mention the Carl Vinson or the controversy.
Pence said he had spoken with Trump and by 2020 some 60 percent of the U.S. naval fleet would be in the region and Japan's role would grow.
"The United States will strengthen its presence in the Asia Pacific," he said. "Japan will assume a larger role and responsibility in our alliance in the years ahead."
Defence officials from the United States, South Korea and Japan, who were in Tokyo for trilateral security talks, said in a statement North Korea should give up its weapons development irrevocably.
"The officials call on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable, and irrevocably manner, to cease its provocative actions that only increase tensions in the region," they said.
A senior North Korean official said in an interview with the BBC this week that North Korea would conduct missile tests "on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis", and any military action against it by the United States would prompt "all-out war".
North Korea's deputy representative to the United Nations, Kim In Ryong, accused the United States on Monday of creating "a situation where nuclear war could break out an any time" and said the North's next nuclear test would take place "at a time and at a place where our headquarters deems necessary".
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said all parties should make efforts to resolve the situation.
"China expresses serious concern with recent trends about North Korea's nuclear and missile development," he said.
The situation was tense and China was resolutely opposed to any words or actions that could further raise tension, he added.
North Korea regularly threatens to destroy Japan, South Korea and the United States and it showed no let-up in its belligerence after the failed missile test on Sunday, a day after putting on a huge display of missiles at a parade in Pyongyang.
Pence also said the United States would protect freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, where Beijing is entangled in territorial rows with several Southeast Asia nations.
Pence heads for Indonesia later on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)