Few causes are worthy of a global consensus, and one of them is a nuclear-free North Korea. Last week, US President Donald Trump announced more sanctions against Pyongyang, and declared it a state sponsor of terrorism.
Mr. Trump cited the death an American student who was detained in North Korea for allegedly stealing a poster with propaganda content and information on the assassination of Kim Jong-Un’s elder half-brother in Malaysia.
Anyone who doubted Mr. Trump’s announcement would have surely reconsidered because of events that unfolded that week. Audiences worldwide were shocked by video news clips of a North Korean soldier defecting to the South through the demilitarized zone, or DMZ. The 24-year-old soldier, identified only by his surname “Oh,” had dashed across the border as his comrades pursued him and fired at least 40 rounds of ammunition. The defector was hit at least five times but survived. That soldier is one of about 30,000 North Koreans who had fled south since the armistice in 1953.
Of course, most nations of the world do not favor North Korea having nuclear weapons, but the country that has the most influence over that hermit state is China. Naturally, China does not want North Korea to have nuclear capability, but Beijing does not want Kim’s government to collapse either, or for the two Koreas to be united, with the South’s ally, the United States, positioned just across the Chinese border. Bottom line – it is in China’s interest to maintain stability and the status quo.
In fairness to China, it has supported the United Nations’ sanctions. But the US and others have been asking Beijing to do more. China has been pushing for a dual-track approach that would require the US to stop its military drills with South Korea and for North Korea to end its weapons program. That approach, however, has not gained traction. It’s time to explore something new.
Definitely, North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is making the situation in the peninsula increasingly unstable, contrary to China’s interests. If anything, tensions are at an all-time high. Imagine, the nuclear issue is even driving Japan to revisit calls to expand its self-defense force. Surely, that does not suit China’s interest. If China is to preserve peace in the Korean peninsula, it has to find a way to do more.
The Philippines, along with the rest of Asean, also has to do more. Earlier, the Philippines suspended trade with North Korea. And in the Asean summit hosted by Manila, the nuclear issue was on top of the agenda. In a statement released at the end of the summit, the Asean members said, “We expressed grave concern over the DPRK’s ongoing development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear and chemical weapons, and ballistic missile technologies, which are in contravention of UNSC resolutions.”
A large swath of the world, including the Philippines, is within firing range of North Korea’s missiles. Worse, the North has been miniaturizing and increasing the destructive capability of its nuclear weapons. A hot war in the Korean peninsula not only threatens the Koreans. It could also draw the superpowers into a larger conflict.
Even without actual fighting, the effects of the raging “word war” are palpable. The rhetoric has triggered a regional arms race that siphons valuable but limited resources from development.
North Korea, for one, reportedly spends 22 percent of its gross domestic product on military spending. A recent Newsweek story bluntly featured a headline alleging Kim Jong-Un of starving his people to pay for nuclear weapons. The North Korean defector not only had to be treated for gunshot wounds, but also for severe infestation of parasitic worms in his intestines. Given that the North Korean military personnel are better off than the general population, one can only imagine the hardship borne by ordinary people in the North.
As we have said before, the Philippines needs to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the world against the North Korean threat. Unless the world stands united, it faces the possibility of falling divided.