As simmering tensions between the United States and North Korea threaten to boil over, Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit to the Navy's forward-deployed aircraft carrier in Japan Tuesday, telling troops aboard that the president was willing to back diplomatic and economic pressures with military action.
Sporting a green flight jacket, Pence addressed a crowd of hundreds of American and Japanese troops aboard the carrier Ronald Reagan, now undergoing maintenance in port in Yokosuka Japan.
He reaffirmed President Donald Trump's commitment to strengthening the long-standing alliance between the United States and Japan, reiterating the Pentagon's stated goal to move 60 percent of the Navy fleet into the Pacific by 2020. Japan would begin to assume a larger role in defense of the region in coming years, Pence said, and the U.S. would uphold its commitment to protect all Japanese territories, including the Senkaku Islands, territory counter-claimed by China in the East China Sea.
"You can rest assured, the full range of the US military capability is dedicated to the protection of Japan," he said. "Under President Donald Trump, the United States will once again stand with our allies and stand up to our enemies."
Pence spoke as uncertainty continues to swirl about the U.S. plan of action regarding North Korea, which conducted yet another failed missile test on Sunday as the country celebrated the birthday of patriarch Kim Il-Sung.
Earlier this month, Navy officials announced that the Carl Vinson carrier strike group was sailing for the Western Pacific in what appeared to be a show of strength. But reports surfaced that the strike group remains some 3,500 miles away from the Korean peninsula, in apparent contradiction to White House and military claims.
Pence, who visited the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea on Monday, said all options remained on the table for countering the nuclear and ballistic missile threat posed by the rogue North Korean dictatorship. But the way forward, he suggested, will not immediately involve military force.
As President Trump has made clear to the world, the era of strategic patience is over," Pence said. "At the president's direction, the policy of the United States will be to continue to work diligently with Japan, our allies across the region, China and the wider world to bring economic and diplomatic pressure to bear on the regime in North Korea. And we will do so until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile program."
But if attacked or faced with the use of nuclear weapons, Pence said, the United States will meet the challenge with "an overwhelming and effective American response."
"The shield stands guard, and the sword stands ready," he said.
Pence spoke with some emotion about his father, Edward Pence, who had fought in Korea 65 years earlier to defend the independence of the south. In the generations since, he said, the United States had continued to stand guard over the Pacific.
"We've ushered in an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity," he said. "Our choice today is the same as in ages past: security through strength or an uncertain future of weakness and faltering will."
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.