August 11, 2019
North Korea is again throwing tantrums, testing its short-range missiles in recent weeks. The tests came as peace talks stall and announced after the decision by the United States and South Korea to resume joint-military exercises. North Korea has even mentioned that Kim Jong Un himself would push the launch button.
The resumption of missile testing may be worrisome, but it does not surprise us. The world has seen North Korea behave like this before. The recent provocative demonstrations were an apparent message to the US and the rest of the world to cave in to Mr. Kim’s demand to lift economic sanctions on his country. Clearly, this is blackmail, and the world should hold steady and firm. If at all, the world should step up the pressure on North Korea.
Last year, US President Donald Trump suspended the joint military exercises with South Korea after meeting Mr. Kim in Singapore. That summit was hailed as a success, with Mr. Kim supposedly committing to denuclearization. The problem surfaced afterwards when negotiators struggled to define denuclearization and map out its implementation.
Recently, China responded to the missile tests by urging North Korea to resume talks with the US. China should take bolder action. Beijing is in the best position to exert more pressure on North Korea. China is North Korea’s gateway to the world, its source of cash earned through trading coal and attracting Chinese tourists. Reports even implicate Chinese vessels in shipping oil to North Korea, a flagrant violation of United Nations sanctions. In short, China is North Korea’s closest ally, its so-called big brother and its lifeline. It should be bolder in checking Mr. Kim because like us in Southeast Asia, China does not want North Korea to develop nuclear capability. No nation wants a neighbor to possess weapons of mass destruction.
Kim bought time
Even when Mr. Kim and his team were negotiating with the United States, North Korea may have been producing more nuclear material. This was the subject of a video report produced last week by The Wall Street Journal. It cited security experts who studied satellite images of the Yongbyon nuclear complex in North Korea.
The Journal vlog went on to say that the Yongbyon facility has long been at the center of denuclearization talks with North Korea. The video showed that the Yongbyon cooling tower was destroyed in 2008 as part of Pyongyang’s commitments in the “six-party talks.” Those long-drawn negotiations were supposed to find a peaceful resolution to North Korea’s nuclear program. But since then, North Korea has been building up its nuclear capability.
In recent years, North Korea has also developed intercontinental ballistic missiles that have the range to strike the US mainland, not to mention all of Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. Since ascending to power, Mr. Kim has conducted more missile tests than his father and grandfather. Even worse, North Korea has been reportedly working to miniaturize its nuclear payload so that it can fit into a warhead.
With all that said, we still believe that diplomacy is the best course of action. North Korea should be enticed to return to the negotiating table with the United States. Earlier, Mr. Trump was quoted as saying that he might invite Mr. Kim to Washington, D.C. But if Mr. Kim continues his missile tests and officially restarts its nuclear program, then he should be made to negotiate. And China is in the best position to do that. After all, it is also in China’s economic interests, along with the rest of the world’s, to maintain peace in the region.
This continent, along with the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia, is leading the world in economic growth. Two of the top 3 biggest economies are in Asia. A hot war in the Korean peninsula, even a conventional one, could disrupt that growth, even reverse progress. And the ramifications would be felt worldwide for years to come.
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