North Koreans attend a rally at Kim Il-sung Square on August 9 2017, ‘to fully support the statement of the government’, in this photo released on August 10 2017 by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Picture: KCNA VIA REUTERS
North Koreans attend a rally at Kim Il-sung Square on August 9 2017, ‘to fully support the statement of the government’, in this photo released on August 10 2017 by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Picture: KCNA VIA REUTERS

Canberra/Hong Kong — Asia is bracing for further provocation in the escalating war of words between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Australia would back the US if North Korea attacked, while the Communist Party-linked Global Times said China should prevent the US and South Korea from overthrowing Kim.

Japan, meanwhile, moved missile interceptors into place after North Korea threatened to fire rockets at Guam, the Nikkei newspaper reported.

"The US has no stronger ally than Australia," Turnbull said in a radio interview on Friday. "In terms of defence, we are joined at the hip."

Trump is ramping up pressure on North Korea, cautioning Kim’s regime against following through on threats to fire missiles near Guam and vowing "fire and fury" if he keeps provoking the US.

On Thursday, the president doubled down on the rhetoric, saying Kim "should be very nervous" and suggesting the earlier warning did not go far enough.

Some analysts expect further escalation in the coming days as both North and South Korea celebrate the August 15 anniversary of the end of Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula, and as Seoul conducts joint military exercises with the US from August 21.

‘Absolute bedrock’

Australia acts as a vital stepping stone for the US into Asia, hosting its intelligence bases and more than 1,200 Marines stationed in the northern port city of Darwin.

Australians have fought alongside Americans in every major conflict since the First World War, and the country is currently aiding the mission to destroy Islamic State in the Middle East.

Even though Turnbull has clashed with Trump this year over Australia’s refugee-resettlement policy, the prime minister has declared his nation’s partnership with its major ally unshakable.

The alliance was formalised in 1951 with the Anzus Treaty, which originally included New Zealand.

"If there is an attack on the US by North Korea, then the Anzus Treaty will be invoked and Australia will come to the aid of the US," Turnbull said in radio interview on Friday. "The American alliance is the absolute bedrock of our national security."

The Global Times editorial published on Thursday night said that Beijing should stay neutral if North Korea provoked the US into war. It also said China would intervene if the US and South Korea sought to attack North Korea and topple Kim’s regime.

"China will also strengthen co-ordination with Russia, and to push forward the mutual strategic goal of anti-nuclear and anti-war," the editorial said.

"We need to make other parties believe, these two powers will not sit around and do nothing when the escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsular threaten China and Russia’s national security."

UN sanctions

Trump has taken an aggressive stance toward North Korea, despite efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to tamp down rhetoric. Trump held meetings with Vice-President Mike Pence, national security adviser HR McMaster and White House chief of staff John Kelly to discuss the situation Thursday.

The escalating rhetorical exchanges between the US and North Korea were sparked, in part, by the August 5 unanimous vote in the United Nations Security Council to impose new sanctions on the Kim regime. Trump indicated he expected China to do more.

The Japanese government has begun preparations to deploy Patriot interceptors in western regions that would be along the flight path of any missiles aimed towards Guam, which hosts key US military facilities, the Nikkei newspaper reported Friday.

The US and Japan have also begun a scheduled joint military exercise on the northern island of Hokkaido. The exercise is set to run until August 28 and involves more than 3,500 Japanese and US military personnel, according to the US Pacific Command.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Thursday that the US worked closely with its allies to ensure any military response would not be unilateral. Later in the day, he said the impact of a conflict "would be catastrophic".

"My responsibility is to have military options if they be needed," Mattis said during a visit to Pentagon’s DIUx unit in Mountain View, California.

However, the US effort was "gaining diplomatic results and I want to stay right there, right now".

Bloomberg

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