As the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) continue their missile tests and the United States under President Donald Trump continue to pursue a rather daring foreign policy, tensions seem to be rising in East Asia.
The most recent DPRK test came on the 5th April with an extended-range Scud ballistic missile being launched but dropping into the Sea of Japan after 34.7 nautical miles (63.3 kilometres). Meanwhile in February, the US Navy’s USS Carl Vinson ‘Nimitz’ class aircraft carrier started ‘routine operations’ with its supporting fleet in the South China Sea, just days after the Chinese foreign ministry warned against the US challenging China’s claimed sovereignty in the area. Nonetheless, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson for example stated during his confirmation hearing in January: ““We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”
The US Navy Seventh Fleet and the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group have once again found themselves in the middle of these tensions between the DPRK, the US and its allies in the region. after being ordered to return to Korean waters instead of heading for Australia. The USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group consists of escorting destroyers and circa 140 aircraft. More significant however is the fact that the strike group in particular is under the operational control of the Navy’s San Diego-based Third Fleet, which has not controlled a carrier strike group west of the International Date Line since the Second World War. Commander. Dave Benham, a spokesman for the command, said in a statement that this was a: “prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the Western Pacific,” however the DPRK has of course reacted strongly to American action stating it showed “reckless moves for invading” and that they would respond with force.
The Republic of Korea and the PRC have previously warned of more stringent sanctions if Pyongyang carries additional missiles tests. However, Japan recently announced plans to send ships to join the USS Carl Vinson in the Korean Peninsula, a move which clearly demonstrated the US are not alone in the Asia-Pacific in their defence against the DPRK.
So, it seems tension will continue for still some time. US vice president Mike Pence has said the DRPK could face US military action if it continues with its nuclear programme however one will have to pay close attention to see whether such a bold decision looks likely in the future.