U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pressed China to cut oil exports in a bid to prod North Korea toward talks after Kim Jong Un’s regime threatened to sink Japan “into the sea” with a nuclear strike and turn the U.S. into “ashes and darkness” for agreeing to the latest UN sanctions.
The sanctions voted on Sept. 11 followed North Korea’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test earlier this month. An initial draft of the United Nations Security Council resolution had called for an oil embargo, but resistance from China and Russia forced the removal of that demand.
“We hope China will not reject that or discard that as a very powerful tool, that they alone really have the ability to assert,” Tillerson said at a briefing in London with U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Echoing that sentiment, Johnson said there was room for China, North Korea’s top trading partner, to do much more, “particularly in respect to oil.”
In comments reflecting North Korea’s penchant for apocalyptic rhetoric, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said “Japan is no longer needed to exist near us.” Citing a statement by the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, KCNA said, “The four islands of the archipelago should be sunken into the sea by the nuclear bomb of Juche,” a reference to the regime’s ideology of self-reliance.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called the comments, which sent the Korean won lower, extremely provocative. “If North Korea stays the course that it is on, it will increasingly become isolated from the world,” he told reporters in Tokyo.
The new round of North Korean threats come amid reports the regime may be preparing another missile test. There are signs North Korea has fueled and readied for launch a rocket with an engine for liquid fuel, suggesting it may be an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Nikkei reported, citing a Japanese government official it did not identify.
In late August, the regime launched a ballistic missile over northern Japan in what it said was “muscle-flexing” to protest annual military drills between the U.S. and South Korea. Kim called it a “meaningful prelude” to containing Guam. North Korea previously threatened to launch rockets over Japan into the Pacific and toward the U.S. territory.
KCNA had previously described the rocket as an intermediate-range strategic ballistic missile.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launch at the time, while U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated that “all options” were under consideration in responding to North Korea’s provocations.
The remarks about Japan came sandwiched between threats against the U.S. and South Korea.
“Now is the time to annihilate the U.S. imperialist aggressors,” the statement on KCNA said. “Let’s vent our spite with mobilization of all retaliation means which have been prepared till now.”
The report said the South Korean “puppet forces are traitors and dogs of the U.S. ” for backing sanctions against their fellow countrymen, adding that the "group of pro-American traitors should be severely punished and wiped out with fire attack so that they could no longer survive.”
Still, South Korea’s Unification Ministry is considering providing $8 million in humanitarian aid to North Korea through international organizations such as UNICEF, Yonhap News reported Thursday, citing the ministry.
If the aid is approved by the government it would be the first time in two years that Seoul has provided such assistance to its northern neighbor. In 2015, the ministry sent 11.7 billion won ($10.3 million) through international bodies.
When South Korean President Moon Jae-in came into power in May he promised a new era of engagement with North Korea. But he’s turned more hawkish in recent weeks, seeking stronger warheads on ballistic missiles, stepping up military drills, and embracing a missile defense system he’d questioned.
Jim Woolsey, former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, said Thursday the U.S. should aim to de-escalate tensions with North Korea.
“We can’t push these things right close to the edge,” especially “if the president makes decisions really, really rapidly in the middle of the night,” Woolsey said on Bloomberg TV.
The threat to Japan comes a day after a lawmaker said some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party were considering visiting Pyongyang for talks with North Korean leaders.
“In the LDP there are some people seeking dialogue,” independent lawmaker Antonio Inoki told reporters in Tokyo following a trip to the North Korean capital. “There’s a change in atmosphere at the moment” about the need for talks rather than pressure, he said.
The government in Tokyo had criticized Inoki’s visit, with Suga saying beforehand that all trips to North Korea by Japanese citizens are discouraged.
Abe has stressed the need for pressure on Kim via sanctions, as opposed to talks. He told the Nikkei newspaper this week that Japan was in agreement with the U.S. and South Korea that dialogue would only be possible when North Korea committed to complete and verifiable denuclearization.