On the Situation Around the Korean Peninsula

Why Is Washington Escalating the Situation in the Region?

The situation on the Korean Peninsula and around remains, without exaggeration, in the focus of attention of the world. And this is understandable, because the sharply raised tensions in the region could have very serious consequences not only for East Asian countries, but also for other regions.

The external reason for this aggravation was the actions of North Korea, which, in violation of the UN Security Council demands, continues to implement its missile and nuclear programs. Only in 2016 Pyongyang had conducted two nuclear tests and 24 combat training launches of ballistic missiles. However, apparently, in the current situation the North Korea does not intend to stop there.

The intransigence of the DPRK is explained by the lack of guarantees of its security from the United States and its allies in Northeast Asia (NEA). Large-scale US-South Korean military exercises, which are being held on a regular basis near the borders of North Korea, are consider there as a provocation, which at any moment may evolve into a real invasion in the territory of the sovereign state. Moreover, President of the United States D. Trump has openly labeled North Korea a "menace", which he is going to solve in any case and using all available means, including military.

China, being interested in maintaining peace and stability on the Peninsula, offered the United States to refuse from conducting of military drills, which cause much concern to Pyongyang. In this case the North, in turn, could assume obligations to curtail its nuclear missile program. However, the United States refuse from this option, arguing that the military drills are legal, and that they are not going to concede, the more to a "rogue country". The result is what had happened – the world is one step away from the regional conflict, which in its scope is capable to surpass the bloodshed in the Middle East.

The question arises: why Washington is striving today to escalate the situation in Northeast Asia with possibly unpredictable consequences? One can only make some assumptions on this.

Expert community adheres the opinion, that the current President of the US yet has no an integrated action plan in the Asia Pacific region and a strategy toward North Korea. After exiting the TRANS-Pacific partnership and harsh statements by D. Trumpet that the allies of the United States should be "more responsible for maintaining their own combat readiness and financial support of the US troops in their territories", for the new administration it was an imperative to demonstrate that the US have never left Asia-Pacific, and Washington still adheres to its obligations on ensuring the security of its allies in the region – Japan and South Korea.

State Secretary Rex W. Tillerson, who visited Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing in March, declared the so-called "new approach" to North Korea. Its essence is to increase comprehensive pressure on Pyongyang, including the use of military force, if necessary. Note, that the drastically negative reaction of the DPRK to the marshalling of the US troops and a fleet of warships near its borders, has allowed the USE to address the matter of deployment of the US missile defense system (THAAD) in South Korea, which previously had been discussed for quite a long time. According to the commander of the US forces in the Pacific G. Harris, the system should be ready for combat use within the next few days. It is well known, that this step has caused negative reaction in China and among residents in South Korea.

The ten-day tour of the Vice President of the United States M. Pence in April, in the course of which he visited Seoul, Tokyo, Jakarta and Sydney, was also devoted to discussion of the need of solidarity actions in the region. As reported by the media with reference to information from the White House, the visit would include discussions about the threat from North Korea, including military options, and "we'll be discussing that with our allies and partners at every stop". It seems that this was indeed the case – after having been back, M. Pens has on a confidential basis reported the outcome of his trip to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Noteworthy, that during this trip of the US Vice-President, one of the important topics of the talks was also the tense situation in the South China Sea, which continues to irritate the United States because of attempts by Beijing to "create a new geographical reality based on Spratly Islands". This topic is known to be directly dealt with the "fundamental interests" of China, which considers such statements as intervention in its internal affairs. Characteristically, "the problem of the South China Sea" was included into the same agenda of M. Pence, in which "the problem of North Korea" has been already included.

Obviously, an unprecedented aggravation of the situation around the Korean Peninsula is a challenge for China and other countries in the region. Actions of Pyongyang and Washington are forcing China to make a serious choice. In the interview with the Wall Street Journal D. Trump said that he "offered trade concessions to China in exchange for help on North Korea...". But, it seems that Beijing is not ready for such an "exchange", as in this case the DPRK already in the near future may well be in a situation similar to what happened in Iraq, Libya and Syria. It is also clear, that in the case of aggression against the adrift DPRK and its use of nuclear weapons in a self-defense attempt, vast territories and populations will have suffered, in particular in the neighboring countries, including China and Russia.

As a result, China will face great difficulties both inside the country and abroad, including the realization of "Chinese Dream" and the transcontinental mega-projects. Moreover, considering, that Beijing is currently actively preparing to the conduct in the fall of this year of the 19th Congress of the CPC, the Chinese leadership is extremely interested in maintaining stability in the country and its immediate environment. Therefore, condemning the missile and nuclear program of Pyongyang and supporting the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council, China is inclined to continue to pursue a political and diplomatic solution to the nuclear program on the Korean Peninsula.

This has been confirmed on April 24 in a telephone conversation with President of the United States, during which Chinese President XI Jinping expressed the hope that the parties will keep restraint and avoid further tensions in the Korean Peninsula. There has been also expressed the intention of China in a multilateral format, including the US, to peruse peace and stability on the Peninsula and in Northeast Asia. Apparently, China will insist on this approach to the problem and during the planned visit of D. Trump in China.

On the other hand, China understands that the lack of measures to curb the nuclear ambitions of North Korea have led, in fact, to its emergence as an independent nuclear state, the deployment of the US anti-missile system in South Korea and complications in relations with important trading partners of China (Japan, South Korea). And in the near future, when more than 200 combat US Navy ships will be located in the Pacific ocean and  control the waters around the North-East and South-East Asia, China can find itself under even more pressure from the United States and their allies.

The joint Statement by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, which was announced on April 26, states that Washington intends to achieve its goals by further tightening sanctions and diplomatic pressure on the DPRK. Thus, the node of heightened tension in North-East Asia continues to be very far from a solution.

The things that are currently happening in northeast Asia directly affect the national security interests of Russia. A targeted concentration of significant military forces of the US in the region and the statements by North Korean leader Kim Jong UN on his readiness for preventive strike with nuclear weapons can result in significant loss of life, permanently and seriously undermine the overall stability, interaction and cooperation in the region. This is a highly undesirable scenario.

There is only one way out, which to seek solution of the problem exclusively through negotiations and compromise involving all the stakeholders. Russia has consistently advocated the early resumption of six-party talks, peace-building and mutually beneficial cooperation in the region, including in a trilateral format between Russia, the DPRK and the Republic of Korea.

Washington Korea