China and Russia dispatch ships to shadow Donald Trump’s ‘armada’ as it approaches North Korean waters – Japanese media report

The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson

China and Russia have dispatched spy vessels to shadow Donald Trump’s ‘armada’ as it steams to North Korean waters, amid rising tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

Japanese media reported the deployment as Mike Pence, the US vice president, warned Pyongyang the “era of strategic patience is over” during a visit to South Korea.

Beijing sought Russian help in averting a crisis over North Korea last week, as concerns grow in China that Donald Trump is seeking to confront North Korea over its weapon’s program.

The US president sent a navy group led by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson into the region, in what is being seen as a signal to Pyongyang.

Mr Trump described the force as an “armada” and said that submarines were being sent which were “far more powerful than the aircraft carrier.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun, citing “multiple sources of the Japanese government”, said China and Russia had “dispatched intelligence-gathering vessels from their navies to chase the USS Carl Vinson”.

The ships are “strengthening warning and surveillance activities in the waters and airspace around the area,” Japan’s largest daily newspaper said, according to its English language sister publication, The Japan News.

It came as Mr Pence began a ten day trip to Asia with a visit to the Demilitarised Zone dividing South and North Korea.

“The era of strategic patience is over,” Mr Pence said, in a warning to Pyongyang, which has carried out five nuclear tests since 2006, including two last year.

“President Trump has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out and we want to see change.”

Mr Pence said “all options are on the table” in dealing with Pyongyang, and that the US would meet a nuclear threat with “an overwhelming and effective response.”

Pointing to Mr Trump’s recent military actions in Syria and Afghanistan, he said: “North Korea would do well not to test his resolve.”

Mr Pence also joined South Korean acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn in reaffirming their plans for the deployment in South Korea of a US anti-missile system, known as THAAD.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman immediately voiced Beijing’s opposition to the missiles, which China claims is a threat to its own security interests.

The vice president also said Mr Trump was hoping China would use its “extraordinary levers” to pressure the North.

However, a report by Bloomberg said Beijing’s leaders had been snubbed when requesting to meet with North Korean officials.

“Pyongyang didn’t respond to requests from China Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Wu Dawei, the country’s top envoy for North Korean nuclear affairs, to meet with their North Korean counterparts,” the report said.

Meanwhile, tour companies in China have stopped arranging tour groups to North Korea, which had previously been a popular destination for Chinese tourists, reports say.

Media outlet said several agencies had ceased organising package tours, including travel website Lumama and Ctrip – China’s biggest tour agency – which stopped group trips to North Korea at the end of 2016.

Ctrip told the Shanghai-based website that it did not know when it would resume trips to North Korea.

However, travel agencies told that there had not been a notice from authorities forcing them to cancel trips to the reclusive state.

Media reported last week that China’s national carrier, Air China, suspended flights from Beijing to Pyongyang because of dwindling passengers.

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