A US strike group headed by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson was still thousands of kilometres from the Korean peninsula only days ago, easing concerns that amilitary strike might be imminent against North Korea.
An image from the US military dated last Saturday showed the carrier on a “scheduled deployment” in the Sunda Strait off Indonesia, which is 5,600km from the Korean peninsula.
But tensions surrounding North Korea remained, with its vice-foreign minister, Han Song-ryol, saying that Pyongyang would conduct missile tests on a weekly basis.
“If the US is reckless enough to use military means it would mean, from that very day, an all-out war,” he told the BBC.
US Vice-President Mike Pence said in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Washington and Tokyo had agreed to press China to use its “extraordinary levers” to pressure Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programme.
North Korea tested a ballistic missile on Sunday. Even though the missile exploded soon after its launch, the act was seen as a defiant move.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Tuesday that the crisis should be resolved by talks. US officials have said that a military strike was an option.
The US and South Korea on Monday began a military exercise designed to “test aerial combat capability”. Some 1,000 US personnel had teamed up with the South Korean Air Force to ensure they were ready to combat “the North’s provocations”, the US Pacific Command said yesterday.
US Navy officials in Pearl Harbour and Washington declined to comment on the Carl Vinson’s movements, other than to confirm the passage last Saturday through the Sunda Strait, the Navy Times reported.
Military analysts said the Pentagon’s lack of clarity on the carrier deployment was adding to tensions on the Korean peninsula.
“It’s a costless tactic that can scare North Korean leader Kim Jong-un,” Zhou Chenming, from the Knowfar Institute for Strategic and Defence Studies, said.
Beijing-based naval analyst Li Jing said “such a tactic is very much Trump’s style”.
“But I don’t think it’s a good way to handle the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula because Kim will not compromise under threats. He wants to get some promises from the US, China and Russia to secure his regime.”
Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong said he believed Beijing knew where the Carl Vinson was, but had kept quiet about it.
(Additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press)