East Asia Is Seriously Freaked Out About Trump And North Korea
Administration officials tried to soften the president’s threats to
Pyongyang this week, but Asian countries heard him loud and clear.
Originally posted on August 10, 2017, at 5:36 a.m.
Updated on August 10, 2017, at 6:28 a.m.
BuzzFeed News Reporter
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
Talk of fire and fury is nothing new for South Korea — that is, from its
belligerent neighbor to the north. Pyongyang’s state media promises to
envelop Seoul in a sea of fire on a regular basis.
But it’s different when that style of rhetoric comes from a US president.
“They’re used to this from North Korea. They’re not used to it from the
Americans,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the
Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey who focuses on
North Korea and nonproliferation issues. “These off-the-cuff remarks are
very unusual and counter to the mission of [US] diplomats and military who
support South Korea.”
Americans have already begun joking about the possibility of nuclear war
with Pyongyang — but in east Asia, where massive cities are within striking
range of North Korean missiles, Trump’s threats are no laughing matter. Of
course, the US is not threatening South Korean cities, unlike Pyongyang —
but any conflict with North Korea would be devastating for South Korea and
Japan, which are within striking range of North Korea’s medium-range
South Korea would also be in danger of being hit by conventional North
Korean weapons in the event of a conflict, including thousands of artillery
cannons and rocket launchers that are placed near the border between the
After President Donald Trump vowed to unleash his fury on North Korea — and
Pyongyang’s military subsequently threatened to strike the US territory of
Guam — administration officials began trying to smooth things over.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the American people had nothing to
worry about and “should sleep well at night.”
Josh Dawsey ✔ @jdawsey1
"Fire and fury" from yesterday was not carefully vetted language from
Trump, per several ppl with knowledge. "Don't read too much into it."
9:15 PM - Aug 9, 2017
524 524 Replies 455 455 Retweets 1,066 1,066 likes
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No one was sending that message to China, Japan, or South Korea, who may
not have been the target of Trump’s message but heard it loud and clear.
“Now that President Trump has also used the intense analogy ‘fire and
fury,’ the train of the North Korean nuclear issue is heading into an even
darker place within the same tunnel,” China’s state-run Global Times said
in a commentary.
Even though officials in east Asia have gotten used to Trump’s flamboyant
style, they’re intensely sensitive to any indication the White House is
prepared to resort to force.
It’s vitally important for the US to make sure South Korea knows it’s a
committed ally, Hanham said. That imperative hasn’t been helped by the fact
that Trump still hasn’t appointed an ambassador to South Korea who could
have communicated the administration’s message to the government there.
Because of its vulnerability, the last thing South Korea wants is a
conflict, and the same is true of Japan, where memories of the atom bomb
strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki have instilled a deep public antipathy
toward any use of nuclear weapons. (The anniversary of the bombing of
Nagasaki was Wednesday, and Hiroshima’s was on August 6.)
“Disarmament advocates hope that Nagasaki would be the last city to
experience a nuclear attack, but when you hear Trump implying there’s a
possibility to use nuclear weapons, it’s beyond offensive,” said Masako
Toki, a nonproliferation researcher at Middlebury. “It’s an unacceptable
statement for the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
People close to Trump told BuzzFeed News they have "no idea" how Trump came
up with the "fire and fury" phrase Tuesday when asked about North Korea.
That language was not discussed among his top aides or outside advisers,
they said, who were caught off guard by the president's use of the strong
language. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Trump spoke
spontaneously, citing several people with direct knowledge of the situation.
“I cannot imagine any national security professional providing the ‘fire
and fury’ talking point to the president,” said David Maxwell, associate
director for the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University and a
US army veteran who has served several tours in South Korea and Japan. “It
could have come from somewhere else or have been a shot from the hip.”
Maxwell said Trump’s words could also have a positive effect — spooking
China into getting tougher on North Korea if it fears the US is prepared to
carry out a strike. Trump has repeatedly said he believes China’s
cooperation with the US approach — especially enforcing the international
sanctions it has signed up for — is the best way to pressure North Korea
into giving up its nuclear program.
This week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said little about Trump’s approach,
simply renewing a call for “calm and restraint” from all sides, a well-worn
talking point that has allowed them to present themselves as the adults in
For its part, North Korea seemed to hear Trump loud and clear and ignored
the attempts by other officials to reduce tensions. In a statement early
Thursday morning there, a top military commander said "only absolute
force," not talks, would work with Trump.
Additional reporting by Tarini Parti in Washington.
THE STORY BEHIND TRUMP’S ‘FIRE AND FURY’ COMMENTS ON NORTH KOREA
BY ABC News Radio | August 9, 2017
Home › News › ABC News › Political News
(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump went rogue with his comments on North
Korea Tuesday, using bellicose language not vetted or pre-approved by his
national security team, ABC News has learned.
While the exact language surprised some presidential aides, White House
officials say it was a strategic decision by the president to ramp up the
rhetoric. The timing, tone and intent of the statement were discussed in
advance, according to sources.
During a briefing on the opioid crisis Tuesday at his Bedminster, New
Jersey, golf club, the president was expecting a question on North Korea
from reporters and had an answer ready to go, the sources said. Several
aides said that they were aware Trump would take a hard line in his
comments to the press.
Several Trump aides told ABC News that the president has used the phrase
“fire and fury” behind closed doors in recent days in reference to the
North Korean situation. He did not, however, discuss plans to make a public
proclamation of the rhetoric.
“[White House Chief of Staff John] Kelly and others on the [National
Security Council] team were well aware of the tone of the statement of the
president prior to delivery. The words were his own,” White House press
secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Wednesday.
“The tone and strength of the message were discussed beforehand. [Kelly and
the National Security Council team] were clear the president was going to
respond to North Korea’s threats following the sanctions with a strong
message in no uncertain terms,” Sanders said.
A senior administration official said that while Trump appeared to look
down at a piece of paper when he spoke Tuesday, the president did not have
the North Korea comments written out.
Deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters told reporters Wednesday that Kelly
and the president “are and have been in constant contact with members of
the [National Security Council] team” on North Korea.
Walters said the consultations occurred both before and after the president
made his “fire and fury” comments Tuesday but suggested, as other officials
have privately, that the verbal threat to the North Korean regime was not
broadly coordinated in advance.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-V.A., and the vice chairman of the Senate Select
Committee on Intelligence on Wednesday issued a statement calling North
Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon “a serious threat to the security of
the United States and our allies.” Still, Warner also criticized President
Trump, saying his “inflammatory rhetoric undermines our global credibility
and is unlikely to de-escalate the situation.”
“We need fewer fiery words and bombastic tweets from the President and his
cable TV surrogates, and more effort to work with our international
partners to expand missile defense and deterrence and put forward a
strategy to roll back North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile
programs,” Warner added.
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