The risks of an escalation in Korea are rising: the US and China are not moving towards détente. Quite the contrary…
Ukraine today, Korea tomorrow, and with it all of Asia-Pacific? The question is getting more and more pounding in the East. A disturbing question, given that unlike the Ukrainian front, a hypothetical conflict here would in all likelihood be fought by the powers themselves, given the vast presence of US military between South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. The answer is increasingly uncertain and the dynamics observed particularly on the Korean front are worrying because they closely resemble some of those observed on Ukraine.
In particular, the inclusion of the story in the political-rhetorical dispute between the United States and China. In the past, Beijing has played a crucial role in keeping Kim’s provocations under control and fostering dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang. Now, however, the North Korean affair is part of the many chapters of dispute between the two powers.
Washington has openly accused Beijing of trying to “hide North Korea’s atrocities by blocking the stream of an informal meeting between members of the United Nations Security Council on allegations of human rights abuses in Pyongyang,” the US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Chinese diplomat Xing Jisheng said the meeting, hosted by the United States and Albania, was not constructive: “Instead of easing the tension, it could rather escalate the conflict and therefore it is an irresponsible move. Using UN WebTV for live broadcasting is a waste of UN resources.”
The controversy also ended at the G7. The foreign ministers of the bloc, which meets this year in Japan in May and is therefore doubly affected by the situation, they said they regretted the inaction of the United Nations Security Council on North Korea’s missile tests. While they have not named them, China and Russia have blocked recent attempts to do more in response to North Korea.
Because the US and China have changed their attitude towards Korea and East Asia
Both Beijing and Washington are approaching the dossier more aggressively, aware that bilateral relations are now at a minimum. Self once China was willing to encourage détente with Kim Jong-un by sending reassurances to the US and keeping diplomatic channels open, he now uses the same terminology he used on Ukraine, calling for consideration of the “legitimate security concerns of all countries”.
Formula that in the war in Ukraine refers to Russia, which in Beijing’s perspective would have been mistreated and its needs humiliated by the maneuvers of the USA and NATO in Eastern Europe. Similarly, China now emphasizes strengthening Washington’s military partnerships with Seoul and Tokyo as a motivation for Pyongyang’s constant provocations. Just as Xi Jinping uses Russia to say something about himself, now he also uses Kim Jong-un.
In essence, China argues that the US is forcing other countries to muscle moves since they do not respect its legitimate security concerns. So is telling any future military action in the Asia-Pacific, Taiwan or the South China Seawill be motivated precisely by the failure to protect its security concerns.
A mix that risks triggering a new escalation, with the initial involvement of Kim Jong-un’s regime, which yesterday supervised exercises simulating a nuclear counterattack against the United States and South Korea, in a warning to allies who are intensifying their joint military exercises. The Northern exercises involved firing a short-range missilebut – unusually – the missile flew from a buried silo, which analysts say would help improve speed and stability in future ICBM tests.
The North Korean news agency said the exercises on Saturday and Sunday were designed to increase the country’s “war deterrence and nuclear counterstrike capability”, accusing Washington and Seoul of doing an “explicit attempt to wage war” against it. “The exercise was also intended to demonstrate our willingness to react to an actual war and to send a stronger warning to enemies expanding their warfare exercises to assault the country,” KCNA said.
Pyongyang state media also reported that about 800,000 citizens of North Korea would have decided to enlist within a few days to “deal with the military threat from the United States”.
But if there is a clash, and it is certainly not yet inevitable, it is very difficult to remain confined to the two Koreas or in general to the Korean peninsula. The United States is not surprisingly continuing “the Asian enlistment” and after having favored the historic restart of relations between Japan and South Korea, sealed by the visit of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to Tokyo in recent days, today they assist with satisfaction at the meeting tra Japanese premier Fumio Kishida and Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. The two leaders strengthen their security partnership in New Delhi, shortly after the Indian foreign minister spoke of a “dangerous and fragile situation” on the border with China.
The hope is that tomorrow does not reserve a new front, but certainly none of the officers want to be found unprepared. And without a resumption of dialogue between Washington and Beijing it will be difficult not only to have, but also to imagine, a détente.
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