US defence secretary Jim Mattis warns North Korea against actions leading to the "destruction of its people"

Courtney Goldsmith
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Defence secretary Jim Mattis added his voice to an escalation of threats between the two nations (Source: Getty)

Tensions between the US and North Korea are rumbling higher as US defence secretary Jim Mattis warned Pyongyang that it should put an end to actions that could lead to the "end of its regime and the destruction of its people".

Mattis' comments followed North Korea's threats of a missile attack on a US base on Guam in the Pacific this morning and Donald Trump's unexpected, stark promise to respond with "fire and fury" against the nation last night.

In a statement, Mattis said the US and its allies would win any arms race or conflict with North Korea.

"The DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons," Mattis said.

"The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people."

Financial markets around the world were rocked by the escalation in rhetoric from Washington and Pyongyang last night and early this morning. Investors shunned equity markets and piled into safe haven assets like gold and the yen.

Last weekend, the UN Security Council unanimously agreed to impose tough new sanctions on North Korea after it continued test firing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

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