SEOUL -- As the high-stakes standoff continues between the U.S. and North Korea, American Vice President Mike Pence has ratcheted up the pressure on Pyongyang, warning that that further nuclear or missile testing could trigger a response from Washington.
Pence stressed that "all options are on the table" and "the era of strategic patience is over" in a joint news conference with acting South Korean President Hwang Kyo-ahn here on Monday.
"The world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new President [Donald Trump] in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan," Pence said. "North Korea would do well not to test his resolve." Similarly, Hwang declared, "if North Korea commits another provocation, we will swiftly implement intensive punitive measures."
While expressing confidence that Beijing will "properly" deal with the North, Pence echoed an earlier statement by Trump, warning, "if China is unable to deal with North Korea, the United States and our allies will."
The vice president also criticized China for economically retaliating against South Korea for its deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile shield. He signaled to China that Washington could take military action in the North, with or without approval from Beijing.
North Korea had attempted a missile launch on Sunday while Pence was flying to South Korea to kick off his four-nation tour of Asia. Before meeting with Hwang, the vice president first visited the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas. Pyongyang is believed to have two-thirds of its one million soldiers stationed near the de facto border, as well as field artillery capable of firing 500,000 rounds an hour aimed at Seoul and its surroundings.
At the zone, Pence stressed that the U.S. and South Korea share an "ironclad and immutable alliance." When asked whether he had a message for North Korea, he said the rogue nation "should not mistake the resolve of the United States of America to stand with our ally."
Most diplomatic and military experts do not expect a U.S. military strike in the immediate future, given the risk of retaliation against South Korea or Japan, where many Americans live. But Pence made clear on Monday that the U.S. was ready to act should Pyongyang cross the red line, by conducting its sixth nuclear test or testing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the continental U.S.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Monday sent a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad for Syria's 71st anniversary of its independence. In it, he slammed the recent U.S. missile strikes on Syria as a "flagrant act of aggression," according to the Korean Central News Agency, the government mouthpiece.
"All relevant parties should avoid taking provocative actions that further fuel tensions" on the Korean Peninsula, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters Monday.