On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence made a surprise visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which separates North and South Korea. While at the DMZ he made a series of remarks aimed at North Korea in order to reiterate American resolve in “denuclearization of this peninsula and for the long term prosperity and freedom of the people of South Korea.” He noted that although the U.S. seeks a peaceful resolution to the issues, “all options are on the table” and “the era of strategic patience is over.”
Indeed, the U.S. has been ramping up pressure on North Korea lately in a bid to encourage its leadership to tone down its rhetoric and cease its nuclear program and weapons tests. The U.S. has sent the U.S.S. Carl Vinson carrier strike group to the region (both China and Russia have deployed “intelligence-gathering” ships to the area in response in order to monitor American movements). The U.S. has also been encouraging China to help reign in North Korea, which it appears to be doing, having previously stopped coal shipments from North Korea to China and recently deploying troops along their border with North Korea.
This pressure may be having an effect. North Korea had threatened to test a nuclear weapon over the weekend, but instead simply attempted to launch a medium-range missile, which failed. However, North Korean leadership (Kim Jong-un, in particular) appears to base its legitimacy on the strength of its belligerence towards the U.S., South Korea, and Japan. How they will respond as the U.S. and China work to tamp down this belligerence remains to be seen.