North Korea

Australia and New Zealand hit back at North Korea’s threat, prompted by closeness to US

Vice-President Mike Pence has reiterated calls for Pyongyang’s sole ally China to do more to rein in its neighbour

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 April, 2017, 9:31pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 April, 2017, 10:02pm

Australia and New Zealand have stiffened their rhetoric against North Korea after the isolated state threatened Canberra with a nuclear strike, urging it to think twice before “blindly and zealously toeing the US line”.

The move comes as US Vice-President Mike Pence wraps up an Asia tour, which has included visits to South Korea, Japan and Australia partly to reassure allies amid fears that Pyongyang may be readying for a sixth nuclear test.

“If Australia persists in following the US’ moves to isolate and stifle North Korea ... this will be a suicidal act,” a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said after Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called the hermit state a “serious threat”.

The spokesman, speaking to the North’s official KCNA news agency, warned Bishop to “think twice about the consequences”.

Australia’s close ally New Zealand has since accused North Korea of having “evil intent”.

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee told Television New Zealand yesterday that people knew little about Kim Jong-un’s regime but “you would assume that underneath him there is a very big machinery of people who have equally evil intent”.

“It’s North Korea that is sending the missiles into the Sea of Japan and making the various outrageous threats including the threats ... to Australia,” he said.

Bishop said the North Korean government “should invest in the welfare of its long-suffering citizens, rather than weapons of mass destruction”.

The reclusive state has long been trying to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead, and has so far staged five atomic tests, two of them last year.

Pence vowed last week that the US would counter any attack with an “overwhelming and effective” response after a senior North Korean official pledged weekly missile tests and “all-out war” if the US took any action against it.

In Sydney, Pence maintained calls for Pyongyang’s sole ally China to do more to rein in its neighbour.

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged China to use its leverage over the hermit state, describing the North Korean government as “reckless and dangerous”. He said Australia and the US were “absolutely united” in their determination to achieve a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson began exercises with Japan’s navy yesterday, Tokyo said, with the drills expected to last several days.