US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to China on Saturday to discuss the escalating hostility emanating from North Korea, and the possibility that Pyongyang might launch a nuclear war.
Kerry’s arrival marks his first trip to China since taking office, and comes as part of an intensive effort to calm tensions in southeast Asia as North Korea ratchets up its aggressive rhetoric in advance of the 101st anniversary of its nation’s founder.
In response to the increased threat to the United States, America has sent two destroyers to the region, each equipped with the Aegis anti-missile defense system. The U.S. is also moving its THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-missile interception system to the island of Guam as an added measure of protection for allies in the region.
Nearby Japan has also taken precautions to protect its population, as Kerry warned North Korea in a statement during a news conference Friday in Seoul, "The rhetoric that we are hearing from North Korea is simply unacceptable by any standards," alongside South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se.
His arrival in South Korea prior to his visit to China coincided with a new commentary from the North's official Korean Central News Agency, which warned of Japan being "consumed in nuclear flames" should it get involved in any conflict on the peninsula.
China, the only nation which has had any influence over North Korea on military issues thus far, last week finally became willing to discuss the matter after intelligence reports suddenly indicated Pyongyang has succeeded in creating a nuclear device small enough to fit into warhead for a long-range ballistic missile.
After marathon meetings with Chinese leaders, Kerry told reporters Saturday at a news conference the U.S. willing to consider removing some of its missile defense systems from the region – a major concern of China – but did not say which ones.
“We also joined together in calling on North Korea to refrain from provocations and to abide by international obligations,” said the American secretary of state.
Last December Pyongyang launched a three-stage rocket into space, placing a satellite into orbit at the same time its scientists carried out a series of nuclear tests that earned worldwide condemnation.
Intelligence agencies in the United States and elsewhere around the globe have speculated the tests were aimed at measuring the capabilities of a long-range missile that could carrying a miniaturized nuclear device in a warhead that would release its payload at a high altitude above the U.S. upon a remote or pre-set signal. The device is believed to emit an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) with gamma rays that could wipe out any type of electrical or electronic system across the entire United States regardless of where device is detonated.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has continued to threaten to rain “utter destruction” upon the United States and its ally – his neighbor -- South Korea, and last week ordered at least one long-range missile to be placed into an upright position for launch. At least two are facing east, towards the United States.