Japan sends biggest warship to the Pacific as North Korea bolsters nuclear force 'to the maximum'

Danielle Demetriou
The Izumo is Japan's biggest warship since World War Two - AFP

Japan has dispatched its biggest warship to protect a US military vessel in the Pacific Ocean for the first time in modern history following the enactment of a controversial new security law.

The Izumo, Japan's biggest warship since World War Two, left Yokosuka port in Kanagawa prefecture on Monday with the reported task of protecting a US supply ship within Japanese waters.

The mission is the first operation of its kind sincenew security legislation championed by the prime minister Shinzo Abe was enacted last year which allowed the nation to expand the role of its troops overseas.

The DPRK will speed up at the maximum pace to bolster its nuclear deterrence

North Korea spokesman

The new legislation, which faced widespread opposition in Japan, allows the government to exercise its right to collective self-defence without breaking its pacifist post-war constitution.

The Izumo is expected to protect the US supply ship while it refuels American warships in the region, including the USS Carl Vinson strike group which started drills with the South Korean navy on Saturday.

A defiant North Korea responded on Monday by declaring it will bolster its nuclear force “to the maximum” in a “consecutive and successive way at any moment” while accusing the US of aggression and hysteria.

Graphic: The military build-up

At the same time, Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, was making an unannounced visit to the South Korean capital with his wife.

Mr Pompeo is believed to have arrived in the city over the weekend for top-level meetings with the head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service as well as senior ranking officials in the presidential office.

The low-key visit was confirmed to media by an official at the US embassy who spoke on condition of anonymity and would not reveal how long he would stay in South Korea.

The Izumo leaves its base Credit: The Asahi Shimbun /Getty Images

Pompeo’s trip came after North Korea fired another missile test on Saturday – the second failed launch in two weeks – reflecting Pyongyang’s continued show of defiance in the face of international pressure.

The latest missile test took place shortly after Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, warned of “catastrophic consequences” if North Korea failed to curb its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

In a statement issued on Monday, a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry, as carried by its official KCNA news agency, said: “Now that the US is kicking up the overall racket for sanctions and pressure against the DPRK, pursuant to its new DPRK policy called ‘maximum pressure and engagement’, the DPRK will speed up at the maximum pace the measure for bolstering its nuclear deterrence.”

He added that North Korea’s “measures for bolstering the nuclear force to the maximum will be taken in a consecutive and successive way at any moment and any place decided by its supreme leadership”.

The reclusive state has conducted five nuclear tests plus a series of missile tests, most recently at an unprecedented rate, and is believed to have made progress in developing intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles.

Donald Trump, the US president, has said a “major, major” conflict with North Korea is possible and military options remain on the table, while Russia and China have warned against the use of military force.

Inside North Korea

 

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