Pyongyang Worries World Again

Published on March 30, 2009

By Nehginpao Kipgen

 

The Korea Times – March 30, 2009

 

North Korea is one of the few countries in the world that worries not only its neighbors – South Korea and Japan, but also nations at thousands of miles away. The country is widely known for its appalling human rights record and a secretive nuclear program.

 

Japan, second largest economy of the world, is increasingly disturbed by the North Korea’s nuclear program. Pyongyang announced that it will launch a satellite into orbit between April 4 to 8 by firing over Japan’s airspace that would endanger international shipping and aviation in the area.

 

As the set dates gets closer, the international community’s concern and outrage is more evident. “This provocative action in violation of the U.N. mandate will not go unnoticed and there will be consequences,” said the U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton on March 25.

 

South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lac, said, “If North Korea launches rocket, certain countermeasures are unavoidable.” On the other hand, North Korea on March 24 warned the United States, Japan and its allies not to interfere with the launch, insisting that Pyongyang has the right to develop its space program.

 

“We intend to raise this violation of the Security Council resolution, if it goes forward, in the U.N.,” said Clinton. The Security Council in 2006 unanimously adopted a resolution 1695, banning North Korea from all ballistic missile related activity. Pyongyang seems not to be deterred by such threat.

 

Japan on March 13 had protested the move. Both prime minister and chief cabinet secretary expressed strong words. “We protest a launch, and strongly demand it be canceled,” said prime minister Taro Aso. The chief secretary Takeo Kawamura said, “Legally speaking, if this object falls toward Japan, we can shoot it down for safety reasons.”

   

Clinton had earlier (March 11) asserted that the United States is committed to resolving the North Korea’s nuclear deadlock and like to resume the six-party talks “at the earliest possible moment.” But with a tougher tone on March 25 she said, “We have made it very clear that the North Koreans pursue this pathway at a cost and with consequences to the six-party talks.”

 

The North Korea’s nuclear activity threatens neighboring Japan and South Korea more so than any others. The two countries have thus far used their economies as leverage. North Korea “is now threatening us everywhere – on the ground, in the waters and in the air,” said South Korean president Lee Myung-bak on March 13.

 

North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, if not stopped, could become a precedent to an arms race and eventually destabilize the region. Japan, which disengages in arms race since the end of World War II, may be forced to shift its priority to military spending.

 

U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who is a South Korean, said on March 12 that the North Korean rocket launch would “threaten the peace and stability in the region.”

 

This warning from North Korea is largely an expression of displeasure over Japan and South Korea on the one hand, and an attempt to draw the U.S. attention on the six-party talks. North Korea needs not only the U.S. economic assistance, but wants Washington to act tough on Seoul and Tokyo.

 

Despite the outrage and threats, Pyongyang appears likely to go ahead with the rocket launch as planned.

 

China and the United States are crucial to diffusing the rising tension in the Korean peninsula. The resumption of the six-party talks involving the United States, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and North Korea is a key element to successfully resolving the crisis.

 

As Japan and South Korea are important allies and partners of the United States economically and strategically, any setback on the two nations will directly or indirectly have impact on the U.S. government.

 

The Bush administration formally removed North Korea from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The removal was part of the Washington-Pyongyang agreement to verify the North Korea’s declaration of its plutonium nuclear program.

 

Nehginpao Kipgen is political analyst and general secretary of U.S.-based Kuki International Forum (www.kukiforum.com). He has written numerous analytical articles on the politics of Asia published in different leading international newspapers.