N. Korea’s missile firings exploit U.S. tensions with China, Russia

Intimidation by North Korea continues unabated. It is apparently exploiting the fact that the United States is preoccupied with dealing with both China and Russia. Related countries should not leave the situation unaddressed and should consider measures to halt the provocations.

According to the South Korean military, North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday. That followed the launch of cruise missiles on Tuesday. The latest event is the sixth round of missile launches this year.

Despite the repeated firings, the international community has failed to come up with measures to increase pressure on North Korea. It is problematic that Pyongyang, in the meantime, has been accelerating the improvement of its missile technology.

Furthermore, what cannot be overlooked is that North Korea has intimated that it will resume intercontinental ballistic missile launch tests and nuclear tests.

Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, decided to halt nuclear tests and ICBM launches ahead of the U.S.-North Korea summit in 2018. But now, North Korea reportedly intends to fully reconsider trust-building measures, saying, “The hostile policy and military threat by the U.S. have reached a danger line that cannot be overlooked anymore.”

But it is Kim who, while promising “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” at the U.S.-North Korea summit, adheres to possessing nuclear arms and has derailed dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang. It is wrong to place the blame on the U.S. side while shrugging off its own continued nuclear and missile development in violation of international law.

If Pyongyang defiantly goes ahead with its first nuclear test or ICBM launch in about four years, its nuclear threat, with the United States within range, will grow further. Rising military tension would be inevitable.

Since its inauguration a year ago, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has stressed a stance of accepting dialogue with North Korea without conditions, but denuclearization talks have yet to materialize. The current situation, in which its North Korean policy can be seen as a low priority, is undesirable.

It is essential for Japan, the United States and South Korea to get back into step with each other on North Korean issues.

The joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea have been scaled down in recent years, partly out of consideration for North Korean demands that they be suspended. This spring’s drill is also expected to be postponed because of the South Korean presidential election in March and the novel coronavirus crisis. It is worrisome that this may lead to a decline in deterrence capability.

China bears great responsibility for having hampered measures to step up pressure on North Korea.

Rail freight transportation between China and North Korea, which had been suspended due to the coronavirus crisis, resumed in the middle of this month. Although China said it is a measure to restore normal trade exchanges, it is tantamount to being a message that China will continue to support North Korea even if it repeats its outrageous acts.

The confrontation between the United States and China makes it difficult for the two countries to cooperate on North Korean issues. And this only benefits North Korea.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 28, 2022.