Defusing tension in Korean Peninsula

Dhaka,  Tue,  22 August 2017
Published : 19 May 2017, 21:56:59
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Defusing tension in Korean Peninsula

Mohammad Amjad Hossain from Virginia, USA
On assuming presidency, new South Korean President Moon Jae-in expressed his desire to negotiate with his North Korean counterpart at an 'appropriate time to defuse tension in the Korean Peninsula. Presently, the Korean peninsula is in turmoil as a result of series of nuclear tests by North Korea and installation of Terminal High Altitude Area Defence anti-missile (THAAD) by the Trump administration. The THAAD was installed on the basis of an agreement signed by the Obama and the Park Geun-hye administrations. 

The people of South Korea vented their anger against the US administration as they believed THAAD could be targeted by North Korea causing a devastating effect in the region. At the same time, Trump has exacerbated the tense situation by demanding from South Korea $1 billion as cost for installing THAAD because it is meant for protection of South Korea. For installing THAAD, South Korea has incurred wrath of China, a powerful neighbour both economically and militarily. It is stated the THAAD system primarily aims at shooting down missiles from North Korea while its radar is capable of detecting Chinese missiles as well. 

The demand by President Trump for one billion dollars from South Korea in fact undercuts relations with strong allies of South Korea while tension has been rising in the Korean Peninsula. Latest testing of ballistic missile on May 13 by North Korea has caused serious concern around the world. Russia has demanded an end to testing of nuclear weapons while the United States and Japan jointly asked the Security Council to impose tough economic sanctions against North Korea. The latest test of missile, according to analysts, 'could perhaps be a precursor to an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching mainland United States." The United Nations Security Council unanimously condemned the North Korean ballistic missile test declaring Pyongyang's 'highly destabilising behaviour' and demanded halt to further nuclear and ballistic missile tests. 

North Korean provocation took place against the backdrop of opening in Beijing of an international forum of signature programme of President  Xi Jinping's 'Belt and Road Development project'. China seems to have been displeased. The North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile exploded near border of Russia when President Vladimir Putin was in Beijing. The North Korean media warned China by saying it is crossing the red line in relations between the two countries as Beijing danced to the tune of the United States. 

As of now, both President Donald Trump and newly-elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in have expressed their willingness to meet the North Korean leader 'under right conditions'. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley reportedly said talks could not take place while such provocations continued. It may be relevant to note that the North Korean leader was on record as having said during the past couple of years that they were prepared to talk with the United States as long as denuclearisation was not on the table. The US too was prepared to talk until North Korea declared either nuclear freeze or suspension of testing of missile. 

Since diplomatic temperature is on the rise, any kind of threat would not produce concrete results. The present flare-up is nothing new. This in fact has been recurrent since the war between North and South between 1950 and 1953. The armistice in fact neither led to a peace treaty nor did it reflect the threat of US military interventions even in 1969 when North Korea shot down a US spy plane over its territory. President Nixon avoided taking action against North Korea. In 1994, US action was kept as an option on table when North Korea produced plutonium. President Bill Clinton was prepared to hit North Korea but the conflict was avoided by the surprise visit by past President Jimmy Carter to Pyongyang to meet President Kim-il Sung. 

The threat or use of force will not solve the problem in the Korean Peninsula. Direct talks with the North Korean leader could produce positive results. But it is heartening to note the new President of South Korea is planning to restart the 'Sunshine Policy' of wooing North Korea in trade and talks including reopening of a joint industrial park that gives jobs to North Koreans. This seems to be in contrast to Trump who wants severe economic sanctions against North Korea to force the leader of North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Direct talks should start sooner than later to contain the tense situation in the Korean Peninsula. 

The writer is a retired diplomat from Bangladesh

 amjad.21@gmail.com
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