News / Asia

    N. Korean Nuclear Provocations Force Region to Make Hard Choices

    South Koreans watch a TV news program with a file footage about North Korea's rocket launch plans at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Feb. 3, 2016.
    South Koreans watch a TV news program with a file footage about North Korea's rocket launch plans at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Feb. 3, 2016.
    Brian Padden

    Pyongyang’s defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons is forcing countries in northeast Asia to either support crippling sanctions or ultimately recognize North Korea as a nuclear state.

    North Korea's most recent perceived provocation came Tuesday when it announced a plan to launch an "Earth observation satellite" sometime February 8-25.

    Pyongyang maintains the rocket launch is part of its peaceful space program, but it has been widely denounced as a hostile pretense intended to circumvent a United Nations ban imposed on North Korea's nuclear and ballistic-missile programs.

    Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have warned Pyongyang that it will face significant consequences if it goes forward with the planned launch.

    South Korea’s hard line

    In South Korea virtually all talk of peaceful engagement with the North ceased and exchanges were canceled after North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test on January 6.

    FILE - People watch a live broadcast of South Korean President Park Geun-hye's press conference, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 13, 2016. Park called for resumption of nuclear talks, even if Pyongyang does not participate.
    FILE - People watch a live broadcast of South Korean President Park Geun-hye's press conference, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 13, 2016. Park called for resumption of nuclear talks, even if Pyongyang does not participate.


    This week’s there are reports that Seoul will consider closing the Kaesong Industrial Complex if Pyongyang follows through with its planned rocket launch. The jointly run Kaesong project, which employs over 50,000 North Koreans, is the last surviving inter-Korean development program.

    Virtually all other inter-Korean ties and assistance programs were severed in 2010 after South Korea accused the North of sinking a navy warship and killing 46 sailors.

    President Park Geun-hye’s strong support for harsh international sanctions against the Kim Jong Un government has bolstered South Korea’s relationship with the United States.

    But at the same time, it seems to have strained South Korea’s previously growing ties and friendship with China.

    “(Chinese President) Xi Jinping has chosen not to communicate in a meaningful fashion with the government of the Republic of Korea, or with President Park Geun-hye, who he has closely cultivated over a period of time,” said Jonathan Pollack, an East Asia policy analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington.

    China’s predicament

    China seems to be caught between opposing North Korea’s nuclear program and supporting its ally.

    FILE - People look at a map of the border area between North and South Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016.
    FILE - People look at a map of the border area between North and South Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016.

    Beijing has been reluctant to support harsh sanctions and has called on all sides to resume international negotiations to work out a deal to dismantle the North’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for economic assistance and security guarantees.

    However, Pyongyang’s hard-line position, that its nuclear weapons program is necessary for national defense and non-negotiable, leaves little room for a Beijing-engineered compromise.

    By not supporting strong punitive measures, critics say, China is basically condoning North Korea’s behavior.

    “By simply returning to the table, not really doing anything or imposing any consequences, real consequence on North Korea, then you have acquiesced and accepted them under that status,” said Daniel Pinkston, a lecturer in international relations with Troy University in Seoul.

    There is also concern that U.S. or U.N. sanctions imposed on Pyongyang could actually inflict more collateral damage on China, because North Korea is already so isolated and economically dependent on its neighbor for fuel, trade and assistance.

    Proposed restrictions on border trade as well as third parties that do business with North Korea could disproportionately target Chinese companies and banks.

    FILE - A U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber flies over Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Jan. 10, 2016. The bomber flew low over South Korea on Sunday, a show of force from the U.S. as a Cold War-style standoff deepened between ally Seoul and North Korea.
    FILE - A U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber flies over Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Jan. 10, 2016. The bomber flew low over South Korea on Sunday, a show of force from the U.S. as a Cold War-style standoff deepened between ally Seoul and North Korea.

    “The more immediate implication is whether or not as a consequence of North Korea’s actions, the United States in collaboration with the ROK and prospectively with Japan, undertake strategic activities, security activities in Northeast Asia that impinge on China, even if they’re not intended to address China,” Pollack said.

    More active role

    North Korea’s increasing nuclear capability continues to be a key justification for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to push for a more assertive military role in the region and to justify easing restrictions placed upon its military by the country’s post World War Two pacifist constitution.

    “If we have a consistent demonstration of success in an intermediate range ballistic missile, this will clearly raise the threshold, I think, for Tokyo in thinking about what needs to happen in terms of extended deterrent,” said Sheila Smith, a regional analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    After the recent North Korean nuclear test, Tokyo reaffirmed its strong alliance with Washington and its support for strong international sanctions.

    In anticipation of a North missile launch, Japan has also put its ballistic-missile defense units on alert, including Aegis destroyers in the Sea of Japan and Patriot missile batteries onshore.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Jake from Albuquerque
    February 04, 2016 5:46 PM
    Since the flight path of the rocket is (supposedly known, and) going to cross into Philippine airspace, it'd be a hefty reassurance to them for the US to shoot it down. What exactly would/could the North do?
    Complain to China?
    File a protest with the UN? (Ha ha.)

    A tough approach against the Kim regime is needed. This'd be a plum opportunity for Obama to prove that he has a spine.

    by: Kanaikaal irumporai
    February 04, 2016 2:30 PM
    It's really the time to wellcomw N.K. into the nuclear-club and lift all sanctions to make the behave seriously. If sanctions against Idia can be lifted and not kept isolated even when the party in power and the person holding the nuclear trigger is no dfferent to Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, appart from being a Hindu instead of Muslim. This is the man who compared the murder of innocent Muslims are no more than some accidental deaths of dogs hit by his car. Yet the world leaders simply shake hands with him, just to keep him befriended for the sake of containing China. N.K, should demonstrate the capability to launch massive nuke attack on US and allies, so that the latter will rethink the stratergy, and come forrward for a treaty like the one with the Soviets. After that every state should have its nuke to have a durable peace in the world, not just some super powers and ohers who are experts and experience in exploiting and plundering countries and people.

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