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Fighting talk from the US for North Korea

Fighting talk from the US for North Korea
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By Catherine Hardy with Reuters
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The US secretary of state has used a visit to South Korea to warn that Washington is toughening its stance towards Pyongyang.

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The US Secretary of State has arrived in South Korea for the second leg of an Asian tour focusing on finding a “new approach” for North Korea.

Rex Tillerson began his first Asian visit as secretary of state in Japan on Wednesday. He travels to China on Saturday.

Tillerson is using the visit to warn that Washington is toughening its stance towards Pyongyang.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Asia to discuss containing North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes https://t.co/b05be5O9iTpic.twitter.com/8wZ9QpYmmI

— AFP news agency (@AFP) March 17, 2017

The itinerary

The former oil executive has visited South Korea’s heavily-fortified border with North Korea, the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). He also met Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is also acting president.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited the DMZ to underscore the Administration's commitment to strong U.S.-ROK alliance. pic.twitter.com/NM9CNSfeBT

— Department of State (@StateDept) March 17, 2017

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Korean Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn to emphasize importance of U.S.-ROK bilateral relationship. pic.twitter.com/aLPrgWoHoX

— Department of State (@StateDept) March 17, 2017

No more “strategic patience”

In Tokyo on Thursday, Tillerson said 20 years of diplomatic and other efforts, including a period when the US provided North Korea with $1.35 billion “to take a different pathway” had come to nothing.

“In the face of this ever-escalating threat, it is clear that a different approach is required. Part of the purpose of my visit to the region is to exchange views on a new approach,” Tillerson told reporters.

“Efforts towards North Korea to achieve peaceful stability over the last two decades have failed to make us safer. Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended.”

“We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table.”

BREAKING: Tillerson says military action against North Korea now “on the table” https://t.co/YU6rhlz7nfpic.twitter.com/g9OhTUTaob

— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 17, 2017

The context

North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests and a seris of missile launches since the beginning of last year.

Last week, it launched four more ballistic missiles. Analysts say the country is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the US.

Washington has been pressing Beijing to do more to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes. US officials say Tillerson is expected to tell the Chinese leadership that the US plans to increase missile defences in the region, despite China’s opposition.

South Korea, one of the staunchest US allies in Asia, has agreed to deploy a US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system in South Korea.

China says the system’s radar is a threat to its security.

Diplomacy

Tillerson faces a delicate task in South Korea. The country is in political turmoil after former President Park Guen-hye was ousted last week in a corruption scandal. A presidential election will be held on May 9.

A liberal opposition politician, Moon Jae-in, is leading in the opinion polls. He has raised questions about the THAAD deployment.

China resents pressure from the US to do more about North Korea. It says it is doing all it can but will not take steps to threaten the livelihoods of North Korean citizens.

Beijing has urged Pyongyang to stop its nuclear and missile tests and says South Korea and the US should stop joint military exercises and seek talks instead.

Regional fears

The Japanese government has held its first-ever emergency drill aimed at protecting its citizens in case a ballistic missile is launched towards Japan.

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In the scenario, a hypothetical country fired a missile which fell into Japanese territorial waters off the coast of Akita prefecture.

The drill comes amid increasing missile threats from North Korea.

Earlier this month, Pyongyang fired four missiles of which three landed in the 200-nautical-mile offshore area where Tokyo claims sovereign rights for exploring and exploiting resources.

Sirens blare as Japan, fearing North Korea, holds first missile drill https://t.co/swFStzTdeI

— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) March 17, 2017

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