China's nuclear envoy in South Korea amid talk of Trump action against North Korea
China's Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs Wu Dawei (L) talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Byung-se at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, February 29, 2016. Photograph: (Reuters)
A Chinese envoy arrives in South Korea on Monday to discuss North Korea's increasingly defiant weapons programme as a US Navy strike group heads to the region amid concerns Pyongyang may be readying a fresh nuclear test.
North Korea marks several major anniversaries this month and often marks the occasions with major tests of military hardware.
The possibility of US military action against North Korea in response to such a test emerged as an option following last week's US strikes against Syria. It was further fuelled by comments from US President Donald Trump's top aides on the weekend.
In Tokyo, the feasibility of US military action was downplayed, while South Korea said the focus remained on deterrence and readiness.
“It probably is not realistic for the US to attack North Korea," a Japanese defence ministry source said. "If America says it is going to attack, both Japan and South Korea will probably put a stop to it," said the source who declined to be identified.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US military strike against Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons was a warning to other countries including North Korea that "a response is likely" if they pose a danger.
"(Chinese) President Xi (Jinping) clearly understands, and I think agrees, that the situation has intensified and has reached a certain level of threat that action has to be taken," Tillerson said on CBS's Face the Nation.
China's Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs Wu Dawei is expected to discuss the North's nuclear issue with his South Korean counterpart, according to the South Korean foreign ministry.
Wu's trip comes after Trump and Xi met in Florida, where Trump pressed his counterpart to do more to curb North Korea's nuclear programme.
SHOW OF FORCE
The US Navy strike group Carl Vinson canceled a planned trip to Australia and is moving toward the western Pacific Ocean near the Korean peninsula as a show of force, a US official told Reuters over the weekend. "We feel the increased presence is necessary," the official said.
South Korean and US forces are also involved in annual joint military drills that run until the end of April. The North calls the drills preparations for war against it.
Several North Korean anniversaries in April could be opportunity for Pyongyang to conduct nuclear or missile tests, South Korean defence ministry spokesman Moon Sang-kyun said.
North Korea has invited a large number of foreign media representatives to Pyongyang this week, likely to cover the so-called "Day of the Sun" birth anniversary on April 15 of the state founder Kim Il Sung.
Moon did not directly respond to a question about the possibility of a US military strike against the North.
"Considering the possibility of North Korea's strategic provocations such as a nuclear test and missile launches, we have in place deterrence to the North's provocation and all readiness against them," he told a briefing on Monday.
Senior envoys of South Korea, Japan and the United State on the North Korea nuclear programme will soon meet to discuss their coordinated response, the South's foreign ministry said.
North Korea sounded a note of defiance on Saturday calling the US strikes against Syria "an unforgivable act of aggression" that showed its decision to develop nuclear weapons was "the right choice".
North Korea launched a ballistic missile on Wednesday that flew a short distance before spinning out of control and crashing into the sea, the latest of a number of missile tests defying UN sanctions.
The North is also seen to be ready to conduct its sixth nuclear test at any time, with movements detected by satellites at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site.