Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks to the media in Mumbai, India on Wednesday 12 April 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew MearesForeign Minister Julie Bishop says North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un will not “willingly giving up his nuclear program” without a significant intervention from the rogue regime’s powerful ally China.
In a bracing assessment of the tough choices faced by the United States and its allies, Ms Bishop and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull both escalated their rhetoric calling on Beijing to act on Tuesday.
Ms Bishop said that the US had put “all options on the table” but appeared to play down the prospect of any immediate military clash.
“I believe they mean it but I also believe they would use every other creative option, including putting pressure on China to take a role,” she said of the Trump administration’s plans.
Despite widespread reports that the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group is steaming towards the Korean peninsula, the group has in fact been carrying out drills with Royal Australian Navy ships in the Indian Ocean.
Ms Bishop also played down the prospect of Australia becoming militarily entangled if the US decided to strike at North Korea to curb its nuclear weapons ambitions.
“We hope it will not come to that, but if the United States were to act, I don’t envisage a situation where Australia would be asked to be involved in that,” she said in an interview with Sky News.
“Clearly what the United States would be looking at is taking out the nuclear facilities that are giving rise to our concerns.”
But in her strongest language yet on China’s role, Ms Bishop said that it could “no longer shirk responsibility” on North Korea, saying the days when this was an issue primarily to be resolved between the US and North Korea were over.
“I can’t see Kim Jong-un, from what I have heard and seen and read of him ??? willingly giving up his nuclear program, because he sees that as a deterrence against the United States. He needs to be convinced … and I believe China is the key.”
Mr Turnbull meanwhile said he was “optimistic but not unduly so” that the crisis could be resolved peacefully.
Speaking ahead of US Vice-President Mike Pence’s visit to Australia on Saturday, Mr Turnbull dismissed China’s suggestion it could not easily pull the rogue regime into line. He said the major power had “enormous leverage” over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
“The Chinese often express frustration with North Korea – and disappointment – but the fact is that they have the overwhelming leverage over the North Korea regime,” he said. “So, the eyes of the world are now on Beijing. Beijing has to step up and bring this reckless threat to the peace and stability of our region to an end.”
Mr Turnbull backed Mr Pence’s assessment that the policy of “strategic patience” – waiting for the regime in Pyongyang to collapse or become desperate enough to negotiate – had run out of time. But when asked what his message was to worried Australians, he said he was reassured by the conversations going on between Washington and Beijing.
“I believe now the conversations, the engagement between China and the United States, are such that I am optimistic, but not unduly so,” he said. “I’m optimistic that a resolution can be found, because, as Vice-President Pence said in a statement, I think that will concentrate the minds of all involved. The strategic patience has come to an end.”
On Sunday, the rogue nation launched another failed missile test, and later threatened to conduct missile tests weekly.
In South Korea on Monday, Mr Pence said the US and its allies would deal with North Korea if China did not act.
“Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new President in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan,” Mr Pence said, in a joint appearance with South Korean acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn.
“North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region.”
Ms Bishop said that under Barack Obama’s presidency, “strategic patience” had led to a stalemate, during which time “North Korea’s illegal missile and nuclear program accelerated”.
On Monday, the Chinese foreign ministry said the US, rather than China, was “the most important party” to the issue, and urged the US to “try all peaceful means to achieve demilitarisation”.
With Kirsty Needham in Beijing
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