Top Asian News 3:56 a.m. GMT

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Saturday the threat of nuclear missile attack by North Korea is accelerating. In remarks in Seoul with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo at his side, Mattis accused the North of illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear programs — and vowed to defeat any attack. Mattis said the North engages in "outlaw" behavior and that the U.S. will never accept a nuclear North. He added that regardless of what the North might try, it is overmatched by the firepower and cohesiveness of the decades-old U.S.-South Korean alliance. "North Korea has accelerated the threat that it poses to its neighbors and the world through its illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear weapons programs," he said, adding that U.S.-South Korean military and diplomatic collaboration thus has taken on "a new urgency." "I cannot imagine a condition under which the United States would accept North Korea as a nuclear power," he said As he emphasized throughout his weeklong Asia trip, which included stops in Thailand and the Philippines, Mattis said diplomacy remains the preferred way to deal with the North.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — At a trial that could send two Southeast Asian women to the gallows, Malaysian prosecutors are shining a light on several men at large they say masterminded and played crucial roles in carrying out the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong's Un's estranged half brother. The lone defendants at the Shah Alam High Court — Siti Aisyah, 25, of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong, 29, of Vietnam — say they are innocent, duped by the men into participating in February's attack at Kuala Lumpur's international airport, which they say they thought was a harmless prank for a TV show.

TANGERANG, Indonesia (AP) — The explosion came first, shocking 17-year-old Fitriyah and sending her running for the only exit of the Indonesian fireworks factory where she started work just the week before. Next came the heat from the fires and then the choking smoke, which made navigating the chaos impossible. As more explosions rang out and the flames spread, there appeared to be no escape. She could feel the skin on her hand start to peel off. Then a co-worker appeared and told Fitriyah to follow him and to jump in a nearby pool used to wash factory equipment. "That pool was like a hand of God," Fitriyah, who goes by one name, said Friday from the hospital room where she was being treated for burns.

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen left Saturday for the United States and three South Pacific nations in an effort to crack the diplomatic isolation imposed by rival China. Tsai will visit the Marshall and Solomon Islands along with Tuvalu while transiting through Hawaii and the U.S. territory of Guam. The three are among just 20 countries that extend Taiwan formal diplomatic recognition. Tsai's travels follow Panama's switching of diplomatic relations to Beijing in June in what was seen as a major diplomatic setback for Taiwan. "We want to prove to the world that Taiwan is capable of, and is willing to, make more contributions to the international community," Tsai said Saturday ahead of her departure.

WASHINGTON (AP) — China's increasingly icy posture is thrusting Russia forward as North Korea's preferred diplomatic partner, forcing the Trump administration to turn to Moscow for help in isolating the rogue, nuclear-armed nation. Beijing's close ties to Pyongyang have been strained since leader Kim Jong Un ordered the 2013 execution of his uncle who had been the countries' chief liaison. Since then, the allies once said to be as "close as lips and teeth" have moved further apart over China's adoption of U.N. sanctions designed to starve North Korea of revenue for its nuclear and missile programs. But China isn't North Korea's only traditionally friendly neighbor.

SYDNEY (AP) — Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will stand in as Australia's acting prime minister while Malcolm Turnbull conducts an overseas trip, following the dual citizenship crisis that has sidelined his deputy. Australia's High Court on Friday disqualified Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and four other senators from sitting in Parliament after they were each found to hold citizenship of Australia and another country. Speaking to reporters in Sydney Saturday before a visit to Israel, Turnbull said that Bishop, as deputy leader of the Liberals, was next in line after Joyce to be acting prime minister, and would fulfil that role during his trip.

HONG KONG (AP) — Mainland Chinese authorities have released a detained Hong Kong bookseller and he has been reunited with his relatives, one of his friends said. Chinese dissident poet Bei Ling said Friday family members confirmed to him that Gui Minhai has been released, days after the Chinese and Swedish governments made similar announcements but provided few details. Gui, a Swedish citizen, was one of five employees of a Hong Kong bookshop specializing in salacious tales about high-level Chinese politics who were believed to have been abducted and spirited to the mainland two years ago. China-born Gui disappeared from his Thai holiday home while the four other men, who have already been released, were last seen in Hong Kong.

INANI BEACH, Bangladesh (AP) — Across the ferocious waves and the churning black water, Alam Jafar could see his frantic 7-year-old son gasping for breath, his arms flailing just above the ocean's surface. It was raining, and a fierce monsoon storm had transformed the sky and the sea into a kaleidoscope of gray shadows that was impossible to escape. The little boy was crying out louder than he ever had in his life. He did not know how to swim. "Papa! Papa! Help Me!" "Papaaaaa." Just moments before, they had huddled together in the relative safety of a small fishing boat filled with refugees from Myanmar that was bound for Bangladesh.

KUTUPALONG, Bangladesh (AP) — Mohamed is 6 years old, Rashida is 23, Lalu is 50. All are among the survivors who swam ashore at Bangladesh's Inani Beach after a merciless wave capsized their wooden boat during a dark night in September in the Bay of Bengal. They were Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in their home in Myanmar and headed to Bangladesh. But the storm was fierce, the boatman got lost, the engine broke a few miles from shore. Originally there were 80 or so passengers; only 24 survived. Malika, Yasin, Fatima. They are survivors, but cursed with pain. Their emotional anchors - mothers, brothers, daughters - are gone, swallowed by the sea.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea sent back a South Korean fishing boat and its crew who Pyongyang says were detained for crossing the eastern sea border between the rivals. While the North's state media said the decision was based on humanitarian grounds, experts said it wasn't clear whether the repatriation reflected intentions to improve relations with the South amid heightened animosity over Pyongyang's expanding nuclear program. The boat's 10 crew members included not only South Koreans, but also three Vietnamese fishermen, which might have influenced the North's decision for a quick repatriation, said Hong Min, an analyst at Seoul's Korea Institute for National Unification.