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North Korea keeps the world on edge

September 15, 2017 13:32 IST

North Korea warns the US that it will soon 'suffer the greatest pain it ever experienced in its history'.
Rajaram Panda looks at the latest twist in the North Korean crisis.

A man watches a television broadcast in Seoul, South Korea, September 15, 2017 about North Korea firing a missile that flew over Japan's Hokkaido island. Photograph: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

A fresh security challenge awaited Japan's Prime Minister Abe Shinzo when he returned from a successful visit to India on September 15.

North Korea launched a missile over Hokkaido at 7.16 am, the second time in less than a month.

The launch came days after the United Nations Security Council slapped North Korea with an eighth set of sanctions over its missile and nuclear programme.

On September 3, North Korea had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb capable of being loaded onto an intercontinental ballistic missile.

This presented the US and its Asian allies -- Japan and South Korea -- with a new, more potent, challenge.

The background to this latest provocation is the UN resolution to impose tougher sanctions on North Korea.

When Abe was in India, North Korea issued an explicit threat of using nuclear weapons to 'sink' Japan's four main islands into the sea and reduce the US to 'ashes and darkness' for backing the UN sanctions.

n September 11, the security council unanimously adopted a US-drafted resolution to impose tougher sanctions against North Korea following Pyongyang's sixth nuclear test on September 3 in violation of previous security council resolutions.

This was the third security council action concerning North Korea in five weeks, curtailing its oil supply by almost 30 per cent, banning all its textile exports worth $800 million and remittances of labourers from abroad.

With this new measure, 90 per cent of its exports are now banned.

The earlier sanctions of August 5 imposed a ban on the export of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, and seafood from North Korea, among other restrictive measures.

The security council also adopted a presidential statement on August 29 condemning North Korea's launch of a ballistic missile earlier as well as other missile launches on August 25.

Pyongyang accused the US as the 'chief culprit in cooking up' the sanctions resolution and claimed that the North Korean people demanded that the US 'be beaten to death as a stick is fit for a rapid dog'.

Reiterating its resolve to accelerate nuclear and missile development, North Korea reminded the world that its stance to depend on its self-defensive nuclear force as a deterrent from external threats remains unchanged.

Rejecting the September 11 security council resolution imposing tougher sanctions, North Korean Ambassador Han Tae Song warned the US that it would soon 'suffer the greatest pain it ever experienced in its history'.

Pyongyang, Han warned, was poised to 'use a form of ultimate means' and that the US would pay a 'due price' if it pushed for stronger sanctions.

US President Donald J Trump claimed the new sanctions are 'another very small step' and 'nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen' regarding North Korea.

'If the North Korean regime does not halt its nuclear programme,' Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, declared, 'we will act to stop it ourselves.'

If the new UN sanctions are fully implemented, it would significantly reduce North Korean access to international currency and the fuel needed for its banned ballistic missile and nuclear programme.

What the measures envisage are:

  • a. Cut off a third of North Korea's oil imports, the 'life blood' of its efforts to build and deliver a nuclear weapon;
  • b. Reduce by more than half the country's gas, diesel and heavy fuel oil imports, and completely ban the import of natural gas and other substitutes;
  • c. Ban its textile exports -- currently its second most lucrative industry -- costing Pyongyang almost $800 million a year;
  • d. Prohibit any country authorising new work permit for North Korean workers, another key source of hard currency for the Pyongyang regime.

The previous round of UN sanctions imposed in August banned the country's $3 billion coal, iron, led and seafood export industries.

Despite Trump's belligerent statements, US officials claim that the real purpose of the increasing sanctions is to convince the Kim Jong-un regime to end its nuclear and missile development programme in exchange for a relief in sanctions, economic aid and security guarantees.

So, who then wants war?

Nikki Haley claims that the US is not looking for war.

The Kim regime has not yet passed the point of no return, Haley said.

'If it agrees to stop its nuclear programme,' Haley said, 'it can reclaim its future. If it proves it can live in peace, the world will live in peace with it.'

The Kim Jong-un regime has resolved not to give up nuclear weapons as it is convinced that it is the only means of securing its survival.

With either side unwilling to yield, the stalemate continues, putting the world on the edge of a major conflict.

Why is Japan the immediate target of North Korea's wrath?

For North Korea, Japan appears a soft target.

Kim Jong-un sees Japan as a puppet in the US's hands, and therefore must be tamed.

Prime Minister Abe has stood his ground, saying Japan will continue to work closely with the international community to change Pyongyang's policies.

South Korea, like Japan, says the fresh UN sanctions sends a united message that the international community will never accept North Korea as a nuclear State.

China, North Korea's long-term ally, has tried to influence Pyongyang to change its policies, but has been unsuccessful.

Both China and Russia want a return to dialogue to resolve the issue.

Both Beijing and Moscow have urged Washington to suspend its annual military exercises with Seoul in exchange for a North Korean nuclear freeze.

The US finds the proposal unacceptable and dismissed it as insulting.

North Korea claims the joint military drills are a preparation for invasion.

With Trump toughening his stance to coerce the North Korean leadership to give up its nuclear programme and Kim Jong-un's equally belligerent response -- continuous missile launches and nuclear tests -- no solution appears on the horizon.

Dr Rajaram Panda is currently the Indian Council for Cultural Relations India Chair Visiting Professor at Reitaku University, Japan.
The views expressed here are Dr Panda's own and do not represent either the ICCR or the Government of India.

IMAGE: A man watches a television broadcast in Seoul, South Korea, September 15, 2017 about North Korea firing a missile that flew over Japan's Hokkaido island. Photograph: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Dr Rajaram Panda