U.S. 'could consider pre-emptive military action' against North Korea

Top US envoy begins Asia tour amid North Korea crisis

The secretary's trip comes as the region is grappling not only with the North Korean threat, but also with increased tensions between China and South Korea, where the United States is deploying a missile defense system that China vigorously opposes.

US President Donald Trump stirred concern in the region during his White House campaign by suggesting allies like Japan and South Korea need to do more to defend themselves. Tillerson however is also expected to firm up a trip by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the United States next month for his first summit with Trump, and could choose to tone down any differences between the world's largest economies, at least for now.

He vowed in Tokyo on Thursday to press Beijing to rein in its neighbour but, speaking after meeting Japanese officials, offered no new details of his plan to defuse the threat posed by Pyongyang's recent ballistic missile tests.

But he said that by taking other steps, including sanctions, the U.S.is hopeful that North Korea could be persuaded to take a different course before it reaches that point.

Tillerson will visit from March 18 to 19 at the invitation of Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

"Japan recognises threats from North Korea's provocations have entered a new stage", Kishida said at the news conference.

"Certainly, we do not want things to get to a military conflict. but obviously if North Korea takes actions that threatens the South Korean forces or our own forces, then that would be met with an appropriate response", he said, in response to a question from CNN.

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It is not yet clear, however whether Trump and Tillerson have significant policy differences or if he can defend his department against some of Trump's closest aides such as Steve Bannon who want to dismantle parts of the federal government and limit USA engagement with the world, said three of the current and former officials.

As under the Obama administration, there appears to be little desire for now to negotiate with North Korea, unless it commits to denuclearization, which it shows no sign of doing.

North Korea has tested four ballistic missiles last week, and vowed "merciless ultra-precision strikes from ground, air, sea and underwater" if the US and South Korea violate its "sovereignty and dignity even a bit".

"Diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearization have failed", he told reporters on Thursday in Tokyo, reflecting a widely held but rarely publicly spoken view of many experts both in and outside of the US government.

"We've got to be as creative, we've got to be as forward-leaning as possible to give North Korea those off-ramps so they realize there are opportunities available to them that will not be available if they continue on the path of building nuclear and missile capabilities", he says. That coalition included Japan, Russia, South Korea, and China, which served as the host country. Experts say it could have a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the USA within a few years.

While Kishida said Japan would assume a larger responsibility in the alliance, Tillerson said it was time for the USA to stop throwing money at a solution that's not working. In return, South Korea was to stop criticizing Japan on the issue.

China is perhaps the last country with significant leverage over North Korea, which has ignored several rounds of UN-backed sanctions targeting its banned weapons program.