Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reaffirmed support for Australia’s alliance with the U.S. as countries around the Asia-Pacific region weighed responses to a potential conflict involving North Korea.
“The United States has no stronger ally than Australia,” Turnbull said in a radio interview on Friday. “In terms of defense, we are joined at the hip.”
President Donald Trump is ramping up pressure on North Korea, warning Kim Jong Un’s regime not to follow through with threats to fire missiles near Guam and vowing “fire and fury” if he keeps provoking the U.S. The saber-rattling has shaken global markets, with equities in Australia and South Korea declining on Friday after the S&P 500 Index halted an unprecedented stretch of calm.
Australia acts as a vital stepping stone for the U.S. into Asia, hosting its intelligence bases and more than 1,000 Marines stationed in the northern port city of Darwin. Since World War I, Australia has fought alongside the U.S. in every major conflict its ally has been involved in, and is currently aiding the mission to destroy Islamic State in the Middle East.
Even though Turnbull has clashed with Trump this year over his nation’s refugee-resettlement policy, the prime minister has also claimed his nation’s partnership with its major ally is unshakable. The alliance was formalized in 1951 with the Anzus Treaty, which originally included New Zealand.
“If there is an attack on the United States by North Korea, then the Anzus Treaty will be invoked and Australia will come to the aid of the United States,” Turnbull said in radio interview on Friday. “The American alliance is the absolute bedrock of our national security.”
In China, the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times said in an editorial on Thursday night that Beijing should stay neutral if North Korea provokes the U.S. into war. It also said that China will intervene if the U.S. and South Korea seek to attack North Korea and topple his regime.
“China will also strengthen coordination 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.”
The Japanese government has begun preparations to deploy Patriot interceptors in western regions that would be along the flight path of any missiles aimed toward Guam, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Friday.
The U.S. and Japan have also begun a scheduled joint military exercise on the northern island of Hokkaido. The exercise is set to run through Aug. 28 and involves more than 3,500 Japan and U.S. military personnel, according to the U.S. Pacific Command.
Some analysts expect further escalation in the coming days as both North and South Korea celebrate the Aug. 15 anniversary of the end of Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula, and the latter conducts joint military exercises with the U.S. from Aug. 21.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Thursday that the U.S. works closely with its allies to ensure that any military response wouldn’t 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 U.S. effort was “gaining diplomatic results and I want to stay right there, right now.”
— With assistance by Jeff Sutherland, and Yuko Takeo