The US sent a very clear signal to Pyongyang today, even if they didn’t see it coming.  Stealth bombers flew 6500 miles to join military exercises with South Korea, dropped dummy bombs on target, and flew back to the US.  After the mission, the Pentagon announced the mission and its results, a deliberate answer to the recent provocations from Kim regime in North Korea.  The message? We don’t need long-range missiles to take you out.

The United States said Thursday it flew stealth bombers over South Korea to participate in annual military exercises amid spiking tensions with North Korea.

The B-2 Spirit bombers flew more than 6,500 miles from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to South Korea, dropping inert munitions there as part of the exercises, before returning to the U.S. mainland, the U.S Forces in Korea said in a statement.

The mission by the planes, which can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons, “demonstrates the United States’ ability to conduct long range, precision strikes quickly and at will,” the statement said.

The U.S. military’s announcement earlier this month that it was flying B-52 bombers over South Korea to participate in the routine exercises prompted an angry reaction from the regime of Kim Jong Un, which has unleashed a torrent of threats in the past few weeks.

That message is intended for a wider audience than just the DPRK, too:

Top officials tell CBS News they have also stepped-up communications with the new Chinese government, urging it to use its leverage to keep the peace when North Korea appears to be itching for war.

North Korea beats war drums every spring, when the U.S. and South Korea carry out planned military exercises. But Garrett says the recent rhetoric coming from Pyongyang has been more bellicose, and the young new leader is seen as unpredictable.

North Korea severed the last line of communication with the South on Wednesday, and placed its artillery and strategic rocket batteries on maximum alert, warning that a nuclear war could start any day.

“The intensity of the rhetoric is a lot hotter, the uncertainty is higher,” North Korea expert and former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson told CBS News.

No word yet from Pyongyang, but don’t expect that to last long. We’re less interested in their response now than we are in Beijing’s.  The real message is that the US will take action if China can’t get Kim and his generals back on the leash, and the resultant refugee flood would be a disaster for China.  Whatever benefit Beijing gets from playing Pyongyang against Japan and the US would rapidly dissipate, and we’re getting very close to the point where a simple mistake could send things out of everyone’s control.