‘Intensive punitive measures’: Regional allies react to US ‘end of patience’ on N. Korea

‘Intensive punitive measures’: Regional allies react to US ‘end of patience’ on N. Korea
Allies of the US have joined Washington’s saber-rattling towards Pyongyang as Vice-President Mike Pence said America has run out of “strategic patience” towards North Korea.

The words resonated in Japan and South Korea, both of which share the US’ hardline stance on the North Korean issue. Key US ally in the region, Japan, said it is considering preparations for a flow of refugees and evacuation of Japanese nationals from the Korean Peninsula in case of an escalation.

“The Trump administration has been clear they won't be taking the ‘strategic patience’ and all options are on the table in order to tackle the problem, which is something our country approves,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament on Monday.

“We are consistently thinking and preparing for situations where Japanese residents on the Korean Peninsula will need to be protected or evacuated.”

Pence took a tough stance towards Pyongyang while visiting the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas on Monday. The VP announced the “end of strategic patience” towards Pyongyang and stated that “all options are on the table,” implying a military solution of the standoff.

Acting South Korean President Hwang Kyo-ahn went as far as promising to punish North Korea if it continues “provocations,” while praising alliance with the US as a “pillar of peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.”

“...we will swiftly implement intensive punitive measures based on our [US and South Korea] cooperation with China,” Hwang Kyo-ahn said at a joint press conference with Pence.

While China has not been so harsh regarding Pyongyang, it is reportedly pressing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. Beijing could stop supplying oil to Pyongyang if it conducts a new nuclear test, according to the Global Times newspaper. North Korea depends on China for 90 percent of its crude oil supply and the danger of losing it may indeed shift Pyongyang’s policies. The move is in line with what US President Donald Trump tweeted earlier, saying China and the US should cooperate on North Korea.

While Pence and Hwang said China is important in defusing the North Korean standoff, the US and South Korea do not look likely to change their plans on the THAAD missile system deployment, despite Chinese concerns.

Instead the countries agreed to “speed up” the THAAD deployment, to “be able to respond to the North Korean treat,” according to Hwang. The deployment of THAAD was approved by Seoul last year, before the outbreak of current political tensions, and remains official policy.

READ MORE: Japan’s ruling party pushing for THAAD anti-missiles & strike capability against N. Korea

The US and South Korea claim that THAAD deployment to the region was an exclusively defensive measure against Pyongyang, while China and Russia have strongly opposed the idea, calling it a threat to their national security and a provocative move against North Korea.

“The THAAD deployment by the US in the ROK [South Korea] severely disrupts regional strategic balance, undermines the strategic security interests of regional countries including China, and does no good to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said back in January.

China and Russia promised to take “unspecified” measures against the system’s deployment. While no official sanctions have been imposed, Chinese “retaliatory” measures against the THAAD installation included banning package tours to South Korea, denying entry visas to South Korean nationals, stopping goods at customs and even taking popular TV shows off the air, according to media reports.