News / Asia

    Analysts: North Korean Threats Raise Tensions

    South Korean army soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Mar. 27, 2013.
    South Korean army soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Mar. 27, 2013.
    Mike Richman
    In recent weeks, North Korea has been directing new vitriol at the United States and South Korea, threatening to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire" and launch nuclear strikes on U.S. targets.

    Two Washington-based analysts said it is unlikely North Korea will go to war with the United States. The greater danger, they said, is that Pyongyang does something to provoke a conflict between the two Koreas.

    Concern in Yellow Sea

    Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation said fighting could occur in the Yellow (West) Sea near the maritime boundary created at the end of the Korean War in 1953. North Korea has never recognized the boundary and redrew it in the late 1990s, bringing five South Korean islands into its own sphere.



    "There are five islands just south of the Northern Limit Line, the disputed maritime boundary, and recently North Korea has moved additional artillery down to that area," Klingner said. "[North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un visited several of the islands. The rhetoric is very specific about the South Korean Sixth Marine Brigade on one of the islands. So that is causing growing concern both here and in Seoul.”

    Major instability in the region last surfaced in 2010, when a torpedo sank the South Korean warship Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. Seoul blamed the attack on Pyongyang, which denies carrying it out. Also that year, the North fired artillery at Yeonpyeong, one of the five South Korean Islands, and killed four more people.

    Ellen Kim of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said Pyongyang must be dissuaded from making provocations.

    "If there’s any provocation like the Cheonan incident, South Korea will respond kinetically, and if there’s any miscalculations or any accident during this response, this could easily escalate into a larger conflict,” said Kim.

    South Korea did not retaliate for the incidents in 2010. But South Korea's new president Park Geun-hye recently said she will "deal strongly with North Korea's provocations."

    According to Klingner and Kim, North Korea has been so bellicose partly because it is angry about being hit with new U.N. sanctions. The sanctions were imposed after the North's long-range rocket test late last year and its nuclear test last month.

    North Korea's "hard-line" approach

    UN Security Council Resolution 2094

    • Condemns in strongest terms North Korea's ongoing nuclear activities
    • Imposes new financial sanctions to block transactions in support of illicit activities
    • Strengthens states' authority to inspect cargo, deny port, overflight access
    • Enables stronger enforcement of sanctions by U.N. member states
    • Imposes sanctions on new individuals and entities
    North Korea has been railing against the new U.N. measures.   

    As for North Korea's 28-year-old leader, Kim Jong Un, Ellen Kim said she hopes he understands the "danger of his actions" and is not a "risk taker." She noted he may be more "reckless" than his father, the late Kim Jong Il.

    "We thought when he initially came into power he brought some changes, at the very surface level," said Kim. "So everybody was hoping that Kim Jong Un takes North Korea in a different direction. But now a lot of people are disappointed, and they don’t think Kim Jong Un is a reformer, and it seems like he’s going back to his father’s hardline policy in a much more dangerous direction.”

    Klingner sounded pessimistic when asked if Kim Jong Un is surrounded by rational people who can influence him to back off.

    "They are the same leaders, the same advisors who were in place when Kim Jong Il lashed out against South Korea, sinking a South Korean naval ship in South Korean waters, shelling a civilian island," he said. "So it's the same advisors around the new leader.”

    Earlier this week, North Korea announced it had cut its last military hotline with South Korea. The North said such communication links are no longer necessary since "war may break out at any moment."

    Klingner said it is unknown if Pyongyang is trying to communicate with Seoul possibly by using a back channel such as China, North Korea's top ally.
     
    "There is a possibility the U.S. or South Korea can contact the North through what’s called the New York channel, the permanent mission that North Korea has to the U.N. in New York," Klingner said. "There’s also ways of passing messages via China. We don’t know if North Korea is accepting messages or initiating any messages.”

    On Wednesday, a State Department spokesman said the U.S. remains "prepared to engage constructively" with Pyongyang provided it lives up to its international obligations and refrains from provocative behavior.

    You May Like

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.