MOST of the 626 million people of the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) were not aware that last week North Korea sent the world’s leaders and their security experts scrambling to closely monitor the military muscle-flexing of Pyongyang and its unpredictable dictator Kim Jong-un.
That is because communist North Korea is closely allied militarily, politically and economically with China and Russia since the end of the Second World War in 1945.
To recall the chronology of developments, let me point out that the Pyongyang regime has violated several times over the last decades—earning sanctions from the United Nations—the international treaty on nuclear arms production and proliferation. In retaliation, it got out of the treaty.
But Russia and China, permanent members of the original five-nation UN Security Council (the rest are the US, Britain and France), have continued to trade with North Korea, with food, fuel and energy and even nuclear and communication technologies. And Pyongyang continues to be a UN member though it has been branded by the democracies led by the US and Western Europe as a “rogue state.”
Yet last year, North Korea test-fired its ballistic missiles three times; one of them splashed in the Pacific Ocean east of Northern Luzon. This year it has test-fired one more which ended in the Japan Sea. It was serious enough for US President Donald Trump to deploy anti-missile missiles in South Korea.
Trump asked the officially visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping at his private Mar-A-Lago resort to restrain Pyongyang. Otherwise, he said, the US would “take care of the North Korean….” problem. Xi responded by ordering the rejection of a coal shipment that Beijing had imported from Pyongyan while the ship was enroute to China. (Coal is the major export of North Korea and its main market is China.)
Kim Jong-un retorted that North Korean missiles will rain on American soil if Trump ordered an attack on North Korea.
Meanwhile, the US has been pinned down by its military involvement in Afghanistan—after Iran and Iraq, the lead power against international terrorism— and now with its attack on the IS, in Syria.
In a way, the US is in a bind in Syria because Washington is opposed to dictator President Bashar al-Assad and wants him booted out of power. But the terrorist Talibans organized by the late Osama bin Laden (with US aid and initiative to beat the Russians who wanted to annex Afghanistan in the late 1980s) in Syria are supported by the anti-Assad forces.
Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin supports anti-US, anti-Israel Assad because Russia maintains its only air and naval base (outside Russian territory and Crimea) in western Syria facing the Mediterranean Sea.
It is a safe to presume that China’s cancellation of its coal shipment from Pyongyang was a “soft” move (“sanction” to North Korea) to accommodate Trump’s request.
In fact, after its show of military force, Kim Jong-un ordered the test-firing of another ballistic missile from its facilities in Singpo, eastern North Korea, facing the Japan Sea last Saturday. But the launch failed as the missile exploded, reportedly on take-off.
Such incidents and other failures of the Pyongyang dictatorship are never published or announced in North Korea where Kim and his forefathers have total mind control over their people. They have no choice. Defectors to South Korea and Western reports over the years since the Korean War ended, have proven this.
Again, it is highly probable that China knew of last weekend’s failed missile launch but refused to press Kim over it because it was one way to weaken the US military positioning in the Asia-Pacific region.
Any other military front up against the US in this region diminishes what China says is the American move to prevent China from succeeding in its ambition to be the lead economic, political and military hegemon in this 21st century.
North Korea’s role as a flashpoint in the Asia-Pacific area that may ignite a disastrous war—although it appears to be generally presumed that superpowers Russia, China and the US will avoid any shooting war—will not diminish in the immediate foreseeable future. Keep an eye on Pyongyang for the next five years.
Meantime, President Rodrigo R. Duterte is on the right track making friends with everyone for the sake of our national interests. The rest of the Asean members should do the same so we can have a united front/stand on all concerns of the region and the 10 member states.
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