Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that the U.S. would meet any conventional or nuclear attack by North Korea with an “overwhelming” military response to protect allies such as Japan and South Korea.
Speaking to U.S. and Japanese sailors aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ronald Reagan in Yokosuka, Japan on Wednesday morning local time, Mr. Pence said North Korea presents “the most dangerous and urgent threat to the peace and security” in the region.
“Those who would challenge our resolve or our readiness should know, we will defeat any attack and meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective American response,” Mr. Pence said to applause. “The United States of America will alway seek peace. But under President Trump, the shield stands guard, and the sword stands ready.”
Mr. Pence also delivered warnings to China, whose help the U.S. is seeking in pressuring North Korea to lower its nuclear-weapons ambitions. The vice president said the U.S. security alliance with Japan covers the disputed Senkaku Islands, over which China also claims jurisdiction, and said the U.S. is committed to ensuring the “freedom of navigation and overflight” in the South China Sea.
Earlier, Mr. Pence reassured the Japanese people that the Trump administration is with them “100 percent” in confronting the nuclear-weapons threat from North Korea.
“Our commitment is unwavering and our resolve could not be stronger,” Mr. Pence said at a news conference in Tokyo, where he is in the midst of a 10-day Asia tour. “The people of this country should know that we stand with you in the defense of your security and prosperity now and always.”
The vice president came from South Korea, where he denounced North Korea’s failed missile test last weekend as a “provocation.”
“Under President Trump, the United States will continue to work with Japan and with all our allies in the region, including South Korea to confront the most ominous threat posing this region of the world, the regime in North Korea,” Mr. Pence said. “So I say on his behalf today to all the people of Japan, in these challenging times, we are with you 100 percent.”
Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are urging Chinese leaders to exert more pressure on North Korea to scale back its nuclear weapons program. The president said Tuesday that he’s easing off tough campaign talk about China’s trade practices because President Xi Jinping is changing his stance on North Korea, and Mr. Trump didn’t want to jeopardize those actions.
“What am I going to start trade war with China in the middle of him working on a bigger problem with North Korea?” Mr. Trump said on “Fox & Friends.” “I haven’t changed my stance. China is trying to help us. I’m dealing with China with great respect. I have great respect for him. We’ll see what he can do.”
The vice president reiterated that “all options are on the table” with North Korea, but he told Japanese leaders that the U.S. wants a peaceful solution. After meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other leaders, Mr. Pence said the president is confident that economic and diplomatic pressure has a chance of making North Korea, in the president’s words, “behave.”
“It is our belief by bringing together the family of nations with diplomatic and economic pressure we have a chance of achieving a freeze on the Korean peninsula,” Mr. Pence said. “We will not rest and will not relent until we obtain the objective of a denuclearized Korean peninsula. President Trump is determined to work closely with Japan, with South Korea, with all our allies in the region and with China to achieve a peaceable resolution and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
North Korea has warned of a nuclear strike if the U.S. or its allies provoke it. Pyongyang’s deputy representative to the United Nations, Kim In Ryong, accused the U.S. of creating “a situation where nuclear war could break out at anytime.”
The vice president’s lengthy trip is also focused on trade issues. Before he left Seoul, Mr. Pence told business leaders that the Trump administration wants to review a bilateral trade agreement with South Korea.
He also told Japanese leaders that the Obama-era Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation pact that included Japan, was “a thing of the past.” Mr. Trump withdrew from the agreement as one of his first actions, contending that it would hurt U.S. workers.
The U.S. has a $69 billion trade deficit with Japan.
“Under President Trump’s leadership, the United States seeks stronger and more balanced bilateral trade relationships with every country, including Japan,” Mr. Pence said in Tokyo. “We seek trade that is free. We seek trade that is fair.”