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Friday, September 16, 2016, 15:41

Trust key to resolving tensions

By Cai Hong

Moves by US, Japan and ROK to join arms race after DPRK’s missile test may prove to be counterintuitive

The current situation in Northeast Asia has created one of the most fragile scenarios in the global security landscape.

Trust key to resolving tensions The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) conducted its fifth and biggest nuclear test on Sept 9 as the country observed the 68th anniversary of its founding, and said it has mastered the ability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile.

The United Nations Security Council strongly condemned the test as a clear threat to international peace and security.

The DPRK has sped up development of its nuclear and missile programs this year — in UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s words, the “accelerating spiral of escalation” — in defiance of several Security Council resolutions.

Its provocative acts have made the situation on the Korean peninsula and in East Asia more complicated, offering a ready pretext for Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the United States to make joint and individual military deployments.

US President Barack Obama spoke by phone with ROK President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier this month, with the three agreeing to take “additional significant steps, including new sanctions” on the DPRK.

The ROK and Japan joined the US in a joint missile defense drill in June off the coast of Hawaii on the sidelines of the world’s largest international biennial maritime warfare exercise.

This was the three countries’ first maneuver focused on tracking and defending against DPRK missile launches.

The US, ROK and Japan have also started a new initiative to share military intelligence on the DPRK’s ballistic missiles after it fired three midrange ballistic missiles in August that landed in Japanese territorial waters.

Wariness made Seoul cancel an agreement to share intelligence with Tokyo at the last minute in 2012. Now, the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs have pushed the two estranged US allies to join hands.

The defense ministers of Japan and the ROK also talked on the phone on Sept 10, agreeing to cooperate closely with each other and the US in dealing with the DPRK’s nuclear program.

Still, each of the three allies has made its own moves.

The US Air Force responded to the DPRK’s latest nuclear test with a show of force on Sept 13, flying two B-1 bombers over the ROK. The two nuclear-capable supersonic bombers from the US Pacific Command’s Andersen Air Force Base on Guam were joined by US F-16 and ROK F-15 fighters.

General Vincent K Brooks, commander of US Forces Korea, described the B-1 bombers as “one example of the full range of military capabilities in the deep resources of this strong alliance to provide and strengthen extended deterrence”.

On Aug 31, Japan’s defense ministry submitted a request for a record budget of $50.12 billion for the fiscal year starting April 2017. If approved by Japan’s parliament, the country’s defense spending will be up by 2.3 percent — the fifth increase in a row since Abe took office for the second time in late 2012.

The budget request includes $1 billion to upgrade a dozen of Japan’s PAC-3 surface-to-air missile defense systems to increase range and accuracy, for deployment in 2020.

Meanwhile, the ROK and the US announced they would deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in the ROK by the end of this year despite strong protests from China and Russia.

China and Russia consider the deployment of THAAD as a threat to their security, saying it will do nothing to bring the DPRK back to the negotiating table.

In 2003, China, Japan, the ROK, Russia and the US initiated negotiations with the DPRK, known as the six-party talks, on the termination of its nuclear program.

Time and again, the talks stalled, until they collapsed completely in 2009 after a DPRK satellite launch prompted the UN Security Council to expand sanctions on DPRK companies.

Russia’s foreign ministry warned that the THAAD deployment would spark an arms race in the region and complicate the resolution of the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula.

On Sept 11, the Korean Central News Agency, a state-run DPRK organization, released a statement from the country’s foreign ministry saying the DPRK would continue to strengthen its nuclear weapons ability.

US and ROK intelligence officials believe there is a “high” probability the DPRK’s next detonation could come before the end of the year, according to the ROK news agency Yonhap.

In March, the UN Security Council unanimously approved tougher sanctions on the DPRK, after the country conducted its fourth nuclear weapons test in January.

The sanctions ban the trade in all conventional weapons as well as luxury goods like Jet Skis and Rolex watches, which are enjoyed by the DPRK leader Kim Jong-un and his generals.

Along with some Western nations, the US and ROK vowed on Sept 13 to push for the “strongest possible” resolution at the UN Security Council to punish the DPRK for its latest nuclear test.

China’s foreign ministry voiced its “firm opposition” to the test, saying it strongly urges the DPRK to honor its commitment to denuclearization, comply with relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and take action to stop the situation from deteriorating.

China also believes that sanctions alone cannot solve the DPRK nuclear issue and that unilateral action can only lead to a dead end.

The New York Times said that the DPRK’s nuclear test on Sept 9 and its recent flurry of missile activity show that, despite years of sanctions, the country is advancing toward its proclaimed goal of fitting its ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.

The situation on the Korean peninsula is deteriorating. Distrust, which is building up among the nations concerned, does a nuclear-free Korean peninsula a disservice.

The author is China Daily’s bureau chief in Tokyo.

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