The U.S. Navy dispatched the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to waters off the Korean Peninsula on April 8 in a bid to strongly warn Pyongyang against developing nuclear weapons and missiles.
The move is aimed partly at stepping up its military pressure in an attempt to urge China to exercise its influence on Pyongyang to abandon its provocative acts. However, it remains to be seen how far Washington intends to unilaterally take its tough stance against Pyongyang.
Japan hopes the United States will join hands with China in intensifying pressure on North Korea. At the same time, however, Tokyo fears that the situation on the Korean Peninsula could excessively heighten, potentially leading to an unexpected contingency.
U.S. National Security Adviser Herbert Raymond McMaster emphasized in a FOX TV program on April 9 that the administration of President Donald Trump will use U.S. military might to confront the North Korean regime of Kim Jong Un. He added the United States is dealing with a rouge state that has nuclear capabilities.
The 333-meter-long Carl Vinson, which is the core of the fleet of U.S. aircraft carriers, can carry about 90 aircraft. The vessel is being accompanied by two missile destroyers and a missile cruiser. After leaving its home port in San Diego, the Carl Vinson participated in joint drills with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the South Korean Navy.
It is obvious that the Trump administration dispatched these vessels in a bid to keep North Korea in check with the country's political schedule in mind.
North Korea is scheduled to convene the Supreme People's Assembly on April 11, and April 15 will mark the 105th anniversary of late leader Kim Il Sung's birth. Pyongyang is expected to hold a military parade on April 25 to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army.
North Korea has taken provocative acts to coincide with key political events in a bid to display national prestige. Observers have pointed to the possibility that the North will shortly conduct its sixth nuclear test.
The United States launched a missile attack on Syrian government forces, which are suspected of using chemical weapons, on April 6 on the orders of President Trump while he was holding a summit meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a TV program that the United States sent a message through the attack that any country that violates international agreements and poses a threat to other countries could face countermeasures. He thus warned North Korea against going ahead with its development of nuclear arms and missiles in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The online edition of North Korea's Rodong Sinmun reportedly emphasized in an article on April 9 that the country will step up its confrontation against the United States. The article pointed out that the United States is gradually expanding and strengthening its nuclear threat, but said that North Korea would not be afraid even if the situation were to develop into nuclear war.
There is a possibility that North Korea will take provocative acts such as the launching of a missile to avoid giving the international community the impression that it bowed to pressure from the deployment of the U.S. aircraft carrier.
If the United States were to respond with military force to such provocation, it could trigger a reckless act by North Korea. If North Korea, which has been steadily improving its nuclear and missile capabilities, unlike Syria, were to act recklessly, it could pose an immeasurable threat to Japan, South Korea and other U.S. allies.
Tillerson reiterated on April 9 that he hopes that Beijing will step up its pressure on Pyongyang, saying that only several weeks had passed since Washington decided to change its policy toward North Korea.
With regard to the U.S. dispatch of the Carl Vinson to waters off the Korean Peninsula, Hua Chunying, deputy director of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Information Department, warned Washington on April 10 against escalating tensions in the area.
China is widely believed to feel it has limits in wielding its influence on North Korea, and will likely stick to its position of placing priority on calling for dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.
Gordon Flake, an expert in Korean Peninsula affairs, pointed out that the danger on the Korean Peninsula remains unchanged, or may be increasing, while differences between the U.S. and Chinese leaders over North Korea have been obscured by the U.S. military's missile attack on Syrian government forces.