Pyongyang: Diversion or Detriment?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 7, 2013
Summary: Today the UN Security Council will vote on whether to impose sanctions on North Korea for conducting nuclear tests. Washington and Beijing have already reached an agreement. The motion to impose sanctions on North Korea will pass. On March 5, North Korea announced in response that it would nullify the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, and cut telephone links between the two sides' military forces at Panmunjom. Suddenly, tensions on the Korean peninsula escalated dramatically.
Full Text below:
Today the UN Security Council will vote on whether to impose sanctions on North Korea for conducting nuclear tests. Washington and Beijing have already reached an agreement. The motion to impose sanctions on North Korea will pass. On March 5, North Korea announced in response that it would nullify the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, and cut telephone links between the two sides' military forces at Panmunjom. Suddenly, tensions on the Korean peninsula escalated dramatically.
In 1953, during the Korean War, the warring parties met in Panmunjom and signed the Korean Armistice Agreement. But numerous problems remained unresolved. The two sides have yet to sign a peace agreement. They have however, abided by a number of unwritten norms. Occasional conflicts have erupted, both large and small. But for the most part, peace has prevailed for the past 60 years.
Over the past month however, the atmosphere on the Korean Peninsula has changed. NBA star Dennis Rodman reportedly said, "He [Kim Jong-un] wants Obama to do one thing, call him." But U.S. sanctions are already in motion. There is no turning back. The White House said it "cannot encourage North Korea's bad behavior."
In fact, North Korea cannot use the sanctions as an excuse to declare war on South Korea or the United States. Between 2009 and 2010, North Korea twice proclaimed that it would cease to be bound by the Korean Armistice Agreement. This is the third time it said it would nullify the agreement. Its real intent is intimidation and blackmail. North Korea has declared that "It may strike at any time, against any target." It is protesting the United States-South Korean joint exercises scheduled to begin on the 11th. It simultaneously announced that Pyongyang would counter by holding joint land, sea, and air military exercises in the East China Sea.
For the moment, the two sides are merely bluffing. Neither side really wishes to commence hostilities. The United States is still fighting two wars that have not ended. North Korea is utterly impoverished. But its empty bravado nevertheless increases tensions. It inevitably reduces the room for error.
The most dangerous place for the two sides' military exercises is at sea. North Korea has long disputed the maritime boundary between North and South Korea. It feels the boundary was unilaterally set by the United States and South Korea. Recently North Korea's "Tatung Two" semi-submersibles have been active near the demarcation line. South Korea's military is worried. This type of submarine is extremely small. It is equipped with only two torpedoes. It is not easily detectable. One of them was responsible for sinking the Cheonan.
Reconnaissance General Bureau Deputy Chief Kim Yeong cheol declared that North Korea would nullify the armistice agreement. Reconnaissance General Bureau agents are responsible for infiltration, assassination, and sabotage against South Korea. The 2010 Cheonan Incident and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island were planned and executed by the Reconnaissance General Bureau. Now that the bureau has been assigned to provoke an incident, there is no guarantee that the Cheonan incident will not repeat itself.
North Korea is banging the wardrums. The situation for Beijing is embarrassing. Just before North Korea conducted its third nuclear test, the Mainland authorities repeatedly summoned North Korea's ambassador to Beijing, and called for restraint. They urged North Korea not to conduct the tests. But North Korea ignored them. On New Years Day Plus Three, it want ahead with the tests. Mainland Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi immediately lodged a powerful and unprecedented protest with the North Korean ambassador. The public on the Mainland said that North Korea's action must not be tolerated, and that it must be punished.
Beijing's most pressing diplomatic problem is the Diaoyutai Islands. Wang Yi's appointment as Minister of Foreign Affairs is an indicator. Logically speaking, provocations by Pyongyang on the Korean peninsula should encourage the United States and Japan to ease pressure on Beijing over the Diaoyutai Islands. It should divert their attention. But Beijing apparently sees Pyongyang's move as a sore spot. It feels Pyongyang is dragging Beijing down with it. Therefore it has gotten tough on Pyongyang, in order to smooth over the joint United States - Japan containment of the Diayoutai Islands. One might say Beijing is using Pyongyang's move for its own ends.
The current sanctions have yet to be imposed. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice spent three weeks discussing the issue with Mainland China's UN Ambassador Li Baodong. She wanted to make sure that the US had the support and cooperation of the Mainland. The US knows the Mainland has the ability to discipline North Korea.
For example, after a string of international sanctions, North Korea's financial network collapsed, even in Switzerland and Macao. Only one network remained operational, on Mainland China. If one truly wishes to have the Security Council prohibit "illicit funds," from North Korea, one must obtain the cooperation of the Mainland. If Beijing shuts off the Yalu River oil pipeline, or prevents food trucks from entering North Korea, Pyongyang will be seriously threatened. This is why Mainland Chinese agreement on sanctions can have a significant impact on North Korea.
Following the Korean War, North Korea and Mainland China signed the "PRC-DPRK Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance." The Treaty states that if one of the signatories "finds itself in a state of war, the other signatory shall immediately do its best to provide military and other assistance." In other words, in the event war erupts, the Chinese mainland is "automatically obligated to intervene." But if North Korea nullifies the armistice, then forces Beijing to take a stand, it may be indulging in wishful thinking. Beijing cannot possibly simultaneously collide with the US and Japan on both the Korean peninsula and the Diaoyutai Islands. It has no choice. It must agree to the U.S.-Japan sanctions against Pyongyang.
North Korea's move has impacted the situation in Northeast Asia. It has also impacted the long-term relationship between the United States and Mainland China, and the return of the United States to the Asian-Pacific region. The Diaoyutai Islands sovereignty dispute has also been affected. Taiwan is within the storm circle. It must pay close attention. It must offer a careful response.
2013.03.07 02:57 am