Impending sanctions has the Kim regime sounding more and more belligerent, and has now begun prompting a similar response from the other end of the Korean peninsula.  As the US and China push the UN to tighten the sanctions on Pyonyang, the Foreign Ministry in North Korea threatened to conduct “pre-emptive nuclear strikes” on … well, everyone, apparently:

North Korea is vowing a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the United States. The harsh rhetoric Thursday comes hours ahead of a vote by U.N. diplomats on whether to level new sanctions against Pyongyang for its recent nuclear test.

An unidentified spokesman for Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry said the North will exercise its right for “pre-emptive nuclear strikes on the headquarters of the aggressors” because Washington is pushing to start a nuclear war against the North.

Needless to say, this may make things a bit awkward with Beijing, almost literally the only significant nation friendly to Pyongyang and their benefactor for more than 60 years.  After all, China not only won’t oppose the new sanctions, they’re helping to sponsor them at the UN after Kim Jong-un’s recent displays of petulance.  Kim Jong-il knew better how to play along with China, but his 28-year-old son (or the military clique running in his name) seem uninterested in China’s plans for containment.  Will the nukes head to China as well as the US?

CBS helpfully informs us that North Korea doesn’t have the capability to hit the US — yet — but its shorter-range missiles can certainly target Beijing, Tokyo, and especially Seoul with little difficulty.  South Korea, for its part, responded almost immediately with a much more forceful reply than they normally give to Kim provocations, signaling that they’re losing patience with the peace process as well:

The South Korean military warned on Wednesday that if it was provoked by North Korea, it would strike the North’s “command leadership,” escalating a war of words and hinting at an attack on a North Korean headquarters. …

South Korea usually does not respond to North Korean tongue-lashings, but it did on Wednesday, dismissing the North’s threat as mere propaganda.

Still, with officials and analysts here worried that North Korea might provoke a deadly skirmish sometime soon, to shake the new government of President Park Geun-hye in the South and to destabilize the region, the South Korean military called a news conference on Wednesday to deliver a categorical public warning.

“If North Korea attempts a provocation that threatens the lives and security of our people, our military will forcefully and decisively strike not only the origin of provocation and its supporting forces but also its command leadership,” said Maj. Gen. Kim Yong-hyun, chief operations officer at the military’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We make it clear that we are all prepared.”

A later correction by the New York Times notes that Seoul’s warning specifically didn’t include Kim Jong-un in that threat, which could mean a couple of things.  First, they might figure that Kim isn’t really running anything, so it’s pointless to threaten him; in that case, why not paint a target on the real threats?  Alternately, if Kim is really running things north of the 38th Parallel, his military command is all that’s protecting him from the millions of North Koreans in his gulag nation and their potentially homicidal rage at their oppression.  Instead of targeting Kim, Seoul could be saying that they’ll ensure that the power structure in Pyongyang will get vaporized, and they’ll leave their cousins across the border to deal with Kim.

None of this, by the way, is good news for the US or for China.  The last thing we need is a reopening of the Korean War and the potential for armed conflict with China.  China may soon decide to take matters into its own hands, and if it does, don’t expect more than a token tongue-clucking from the US.