The escalation of the word war between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and United States President Donald Trump reached fever pitch at the end of this week when most of us were not listening. While we were busy worrying about our domestic problems — the fraternity hazing that snuffed out another young man’s life in the wake of a spate of teenaged killings in Metro Manila, and the ghosts of Martial Law past that visited the rallyists on the National Day of Protest — suddenly we were jolted by the tempers of both leaders flaring across the Korean peninsula.
After signing an order earlier in the week broadening his power to target people and organizations transacting business with North Korea. Trump uttered in his United Nations address a warning that the communist nation would be destroyed if it threatened the US.
The tension became even more inflamed as the US President called North Korea’s leader a “madman,” and Kim branded Trump back as “mentally deranged” and a “dotard,” warning he would “pay dearly” for his threat to destroy North Korea if challenged.
“The mentally deranged behavior of the US president openly expressing on the UN arena the unethical will to ‘totally destroy’ a sovereign state, beyond the boundary of threats of regime change or overturn of social system, makes even those with normal thinking faculty think about discretion and composure,” Kim was quoted as saying in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA.
After learning of the reaction of his boss, who also described Trump’s UN address as “unprecedented rude nonsense,” North Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Ri Yong Ho issued his own warning at the UN that his country might test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean, a report from South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said. For the desired effect, Ri added that the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb would be a possible highest-level action against the US, CNBC reported separately.
The North Korean threat of deploying a hydrogen bomb, even if only in a test, triggered volatility in the markets. The yen usually benefits when market anxiety drives the dollar down. The US currency weakened to 111.95 yen after traders got wind of the verbal exchange, down from 112.55 yen prior to it. The greenback also lost some value against the won, slipping to 1,131.28 won after the market heard the news from 1,134.50 before it.
As of this writing (Saturday), petrol prices were being pumped higher in Pyongyang after the UN sanctions restricted exports of oil products to North Korea. Oil retail prices have gone up about 20 percent in two months, and Agence France-Presse reported that now they have more than doubled from their levels at the beginning of the year. Two weeks ago the UN Security Council imposed its eighth set of sanctions on the North in an effort to rein it in following its sixth nuclear test, which Pyongyang said was a hydrogen bomb.
China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has also decided to limit exports of refined petroleum products to North Korea starting October 1.
What the world needs is not another war but for cooler heads to prevail and avert the occurrence of more destabilizers than we all can handle.
The US publication, Atlantic, has put forward some sensible recommendations, with which we agree:
“Before a nuclear weapon is detonated over the Pacific and we find ourselves on the precipice of war, the United States must urgently shift strategy. First, get serious about issuing deterrent threats to halt the escalating spiral of tests and provocations. For example, the United States and its allies could credibly argue that an atmospheric nuclear test is an act of hostility against the international community and innocent civilians and as such will move to revoke North Korea’s credentials to the United Nations.
Second, engage North Korea in reducing tensions. While eliminating North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is an important long-term objective, there is an urgent need for talks in the near-term to stabilize the situation in and around the peninsula.”
We, Filipinos must also remind ourselves, we are part of the community of nations, and as such we cannot stand simply as social media kibitzers making jokes about the name-calling swirling around us. The least we can do is support calls for peace and reason to prevail, rather than add to the incendiary remarks that could trigger the finger on the red button to set off the H-bombs flying.