Sep 16, 2016

    Don't let Korea nuclear crisis blow up further

    THE nuclear test conducted by North Korea last Friday was its fifth and largest. And it was its second this year.

    This ill-considered move must be opposed, and that is exactly what China and South Korea did immediately after the nuclear test, because if it is not taken seriously, North Korea may conduct more tests.

    Since Pyongyang's nuclear development programme is still in the initial stages, it will have to carry out more tests to collect data to build a nuclear warhead.

    But judging by its recent missile tests and assertive response to the global community's call for denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, Pyongyang had signalled that it was planning something big.

    Take, for example, the timing. By conducting the latest nuclear test on the 68th anniversary of its founding, North Korea intends to add "legitimacy" to its nuclear ambitions.

    The test also comes as a time when China is at odds with the United States and Seoul after the latter two agreed to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system in South Korea.

    That US President Barack Obama is set to leave office in four months and the country is caught in the presidential election frenzy might also have emboldened Pyongyang to conduct the nuclear test now.

    But whether North Korea has become a nuclear power remains to be seen. All its five nuclear tests have been small-scale detonations.

    Despite its self-proclamations, the global community is not going to recognise it as a nuclear state.

    To some extent, the almost confirmed deployment of Thaad has a lot to do with Pyongyang's increasingly provocative posture, including the latest nuclear test, and could cause more damage to the Korean Peninsula.

    In response to the news of Thaad's deployment, North Korea has repeatedly pledged to take actions to preempt possible attacks from the US and South Korea.

    Which means Pyongyang may also expedite its nuclear programme and test ballistic missiles more frequently.

    On the other end of the vicious circle, the US may seek to consolidate its presence on the Korean Peninsula and speed up Thaad's deployment.

    Should that happen, Pyongyang could face harsher sanctions, even military strikes.

    So the only cure for North Korea's security dilemma lies in abandoning its nuclear programme for good.

    As for South Korea, what can best protect its national security is the thawing of diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, not Thaad or a closer military alliance with the US.

    Seoul should ease the sanctions it has imposed on Pyongyang and seek bilateral dialogue. Calling an end to the US-South Korea joint drill, for instance, could help alleviate the North's security concerns.

    The US needs to forgo its Cold War mentality and stop seeing Pyongyang as a permanent adversary if it wants to help maintain regional order.

    Fixing its diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, working on a proper alternative to the 1953 armistice and contributing to the resumption of the Six-Party Talks should be a good start.

    But that requires long-term planning and patience.

    China, on its part, will strictly abide by the UN Security Council's sanctions on North Korea and urge it to stop making all the wrong steps.



    The author is an associate researcher

    at the Center for Northeast Asian Studies

    in Jilin province.