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Powers need to engage, manage North Korea
Publication Date : 28-01-2013
Just as the global community was day-dreaming about permanent peace in the Korean Peninsula stemming from what many billed as a first good first year in power for the young Kim Jong-un, the world was quickly brought back into reality in an abrupt manner.
North Korea launched a long-range rocket. Condemnation from the United Nations quickly followed. Pyongyang retaliated just as quickly by threatening to carry out a third nuclear test allegedly designed to "take down" the United States.
"We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets we will launch, as well as the high-level nuclear test we will carry out, are targeted at the United States, the arch-enemy of the Korean people," North Korea's military commission said in a statement carried by the official Central Korean News Agency. "Settling accounts with the US needs to be done with force, not with words."
It was a rude awakening for many, especially well-wishers who thought the young leader was showing interest in economic reform. In line with conventional thinking, economic reform could lead to political reform and, with God's help, peace in the region.
Perhaps the world was too quick to rush into this with optimistic hope and observers turned a blind eye to North Korea's disturbing activities, such as preparations for a nuclear testing, which has been ongoing for some time, so we can't really say we didn't see this sabre-rattling coming.
For the time being all eyes are set on the next detonation, to see if it will involve weapons grade uranium. If so, it means North Korea possesses a sophisticated enrichment programme. If this is the case, then the world can forget about de-nuclearisation. The question is: where will the world go from there?
And whatever direction the international community decides to take, it won't be easy. Last Friday (Jan 25, 2013), North Korea warned of possible "strong physical counter-measures" against South Korea as retaliation against tougher sanctions imposed by the United Nations last week.
The statement on Friday said North Korea would take serious action against the South if it "takes a direct part" in the UN sanctions.
Technically, the two Koreas are still at war that had erupted in the 1950s. Smaller clashes have occurred over the years, the last of which was the shelling in November 2010 of a South Korean island, an incident that killed a number of people.
One window out of this current predicament is through Beijing, North Korea's closest ally, or so many people say. There is still hope that Beijing can talk sense to Pyongyang. But if the past half century is any indication, it's wise not to put all our eggs in China's basket when it comes to influencing North Korea's erratic behaviour.
China will not lose its nerve if and when Pyongyang runs a third test but it could come close to it. A destabilised Korean Peninsula does not go well with what China has envisioned for Northeast Asia. By supporting the UN resolution, China is telling North Korea to get back to the six-party talks or else face the consequences yourself.
In the final analysis, Washington and Beijing need to come to a consensus about Pyongyang. The two may not fully agree on everything when it comes to North Korea but this is something both sides have to engage and manage. There is no zero-sum game in this. Japan can also play a bigger role but Tokyo must first find ways to patch up its historical differences with China and South Korea.