Kim Jong-Un has said he will hold off from annihilating the Pacific island of Guam and potentially sparking a global nuclear conflict whilst he watches the “foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees” a little more.
On Tuesday the North Korean leader was presented with proposals to “wring the windpipes of the Yankees” as he inspected the army’s Strategic Forces.
He praised the military for drawing up a “close and careful plan” to launch nuclear missiles into the waters as he sat at a table with a large map marked by a straight line between northeastern North Korea and Guam.
Kim added North Korea would conduct the launches if the “Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity,” and that the United States should “think reasonably and judge properly” to avoid shaming itself, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said.
Kim’s comments, however, with their conditional tone, seemed to hold out the possibility that friction could ease if the United States made some sort of gesture that Pyongyang considered a move to back away from previous “extremely dangerous reckless actions”.
That could refer to the US-South Korean military drills set to begin Monday, which the North claims are rehearsals for invasion.
It also could refer to the B-1B bombers the US has occasionally flown over the Korean Peninsula as a show of force, reports the Associated Press.
The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, on Monday met with senior South Korean military and political officials and the local media, and made comments that appeared to be an attempt to ease anxiety while also showing a willingness to back Trump’s warnings if need be.
Dunford said the United States wants to peacefully resolve tensions with North Korea, but Washington is also ready to use the “full range” of its military capabilities in case of provocation.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, meanwhile, a liberal who favors engagement with the North, urged North Korea to stop provocations and to commit to talks over its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea’s threats don’t seem to work with Donald Trump
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un appears to have blinked and President Trump can claim a foreign policy victory and justification for his strategy.
Reminiscent of President Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” approach to deterring adversaries, Mr. Trump stood up to the blustering despot and forced him to back down from his threat to launch missiles at Guam.
China, North Korea’s biggest ally, no doubt played a role in getting Mr. Kim to change his mind, but primary credit should go to the president.
What a far cry from the policies of the last several administrations. They favored diplomacy over confrontation, allowing North Korea (officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) to proceed with its clandestine nuclear program in exchange for empty promises. Former President Jimmy Carter, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were among those who visited North Korea on various diplomatic missions. Mrs. Albright engaged in a champagne toast with Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, after claiming success in getting the country to curtail its missile program. We have seen the failure of that approach and are witnessing the success of its opposite.
Though Mr. Kim seems to have backed down from launching missiles at Guam and touting his capability to strike targets on the U.S. mainland, he has retained his overheated rhetoric. In a case of the pot calling the kettle black, Mr. Kim warned the U.S., as reported by The Wall Street Journal, “to take into full account” whether the current standoff was to its benefit. He added it was incumbent on the U.S. to “stop at once arrogant provocations against the DPRK (North Korea) and unilateral demands and not provoke it any longer.”
United Nations sanctions banning the importation of North Korean seafood started to bite on Wednesday, two days after China’s Commerce Ministry announced it would enforce the new rules passed by the UN Security Council as punishment for the North’s nuclear and missile tests.
The crackdown came as President Donald Trump offered some rare words of praise for North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, making an apparent reference to the country’s decision to wait “a little more” before acting on plans to launch ballistic missiles toward Guam, a US territory.
The Trump administration had been pushing China to tighten its enforcement of the UN sanctions, and North Korea’s export of seafood is a decent, if not spectacular, source of cash for its government.
By curtailing the trade, China, which has been criticised for not properly enforcing earlier sanctions, is obeying the intent of the latest sanctions resolution but harming its own businessmen.
“I think it is very likely that I need to return my truckload of seafood back to North Korea – and what’s worse, they won’t give my money back,” Zhang Xuebai, a wholesale trader, said in a telephone interview. “I will probably lose about $US45,000. For other businessmen who have more goods stuck there, they can lose $US150,000.”
The Chinese traders typically do not keep close track of international relations, and although they know that ties between China and its wayward ally, North Korea, can be touchy, they were not given any warning about the sanctions enforcement, Zhang said.
“This just happened out of the blue,” he said.
The red banners held aloft by protesters expressed the traders’ anger at the Chinese government.
“The precondition for sanctioning North Korea is that Chinese citizens should be protected from any loss,” one banner said. “Hard-earned money is now stuck on the Chinese bridge. Chinese customs, please let it through,” said another.
On Wednesday morning, the bridge between the North Korean and Chinese customs offices was jammed with trucks laden with seafood. A video was circulating that appeared to show the trucks lined up at the border.
By the end of the day, Zhang said, almost all of the trucks, including his own, were ordered to return to North Korea to return the seafood.
“I have a truck with 30 tons of frozen squid that is still stuck on that bridge,” said Chang An, a wholesaler based in Hunchun. “My truck has done the export paperwork with the North Korean customs. How am I going to return the goods? There is no way to return it, and I’m going to lose over $US75,000.”
In all, North Korea earned $US196 million from seafood exports last year, with almost all of that revenue coming from China, the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency said. Coal, North Korea’s most lucrative export, earned $US1.2 billion, the agency said.
China stopped importing North Korean coal earlier this year, leaving seafood as one of the few remaining easy sources of revenue for the North. The sanctions passed by the Security Council this month prohibited the export of North Korean coal, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood. The ban on seafood, a highly visible export that goes almost directly to consumers, is probably one of the easiest to enforce.
North Korean shellfish has grown in popularity in China over the past few years. Big hotels and banquet centres buy the crab, shrimp and other delicacies because cheap North Korean labour makes for competitive prices. The fish is believed to be of high quality since it comes from relatively pure waters compared with the more polluted seas around industrialised Japan and South Korea.
The local government in Hunchun has attracted new seafood processing plants, boasting that it serves as the centre of shipments of North Korean seafood to places beyond China, including the United States, Japan, South Korea and Europe. There have been reports of North Korean crab meat vacuum-packed in clear plastic being sold to Chinese traders who in turn dispatch it to the US.
But the booming seafood trade in Hunchun is now on the verge of collapse, and wholesalers have closed their businesses, Zhang said. Further along the supply chain, restaurants in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen are now without their usual seafood supplies.
“The government has not yet offered any explanation to us,” he said.
The crackdown on North Korean seafood exports came as the highest-ranking US military official held talks with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing.
General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “delivered a clear message that North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear weapons threaten the entire global community” in a meeting on Tuesday with General Fang Fenghui, according to an emailed summary of the gathering from a US military spokesman, Captain Darryn James.
Dunford emphasised to Fang “the need for China to increase pressure on the North Korean regime”, the summary said. If peaceful diplomatic and economic pressure failed to curtail North Korea, “General Dunford reiterated America’s resolve to use the full range of military capabilities” to defend South Korea and Japan, as well as the US.
North Korea has dominated the news with ever-escalating threats against South Korea, Japan and the U.S. While there is reason for concern – as there should be when threats are made by parties with nuclear weapons – a closer look indicates that this is little more than the same old bluster.
It’s important to remember the context of the situation. The initial threats from Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, who took over the country when his father died in December 2011, were because of military exercises in which the U.S. and South Korea are partners, and were announced well in advance. This required a response from the U.S., which required a response from North Korea, which required a response from South Korea, which required a statement from Japan.
Many have been worried by some of the moves North Korea has made, such as cutting off a hotline to the South and shutting down a joint factory just north of the demilitarized zone, but nothing they have done now is anything they never did before. Same old, same old.
Thus far, at least.
The moves have been the same, but the players are not. South Korea’s prime minister, Jung Hong-won, campaigned on a platform promising retaliation if North Korea repeated its actions last year, when it sank two South Korean ships and killed several sailors. Japan recently underwent elections, China’s transitioned to a new premier and President Obama has made the Pacific Rim a new priority of foreign relations.
Finally, there is Kim Jong-un himself, who is barely 30 years old and has never held a military command before, let alone an entire country. There is no way to measure the internal politics of North Korea, nor to what lengths he would have to go in order to prevent a coup.
That lack of information is central to any North Korean crisis. What might be influencing decisions inside Pyongyang? Certainly, any declaration of war would spell destruction for North Korea.
Even China, its longtime ally, is trying to stave off war, if only to prevent a U.S. ally encroaching on their borders. Only a madman intent on taking North Korea down with him would start such a conflict. Is that what we are seeing? Is it an attempt to get South Korea or Japan to instigate the fight? Or is it, as in ages past, another attempt to extort aid from countries, most of whom voted time after time to sanction North Korea?
I don’t believe there is any single overriding factor influencing Kim Jong-un, nor do I believe he would be willing to lead his country into war. This is North Korea’s version of a temper tantrum, trying to be the bully of the playground while demanding more milk from mommy at the same time.
I’m confident that, with pressure from China and an unyielding sternness from the U.S. and South Korea, it’s only a matter of time before Kim Jong-un goes back and sits in the corner, a little man on a vast world stage.