China, Diplomacy and North Korea

With its latest missile launch sparking fear across the globe, North Korea has said its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test demonstrated its “powerful physical nuclear deterrent” and its efforts to ”turn its capacity of fatal nuclear counterattack on hostile forces.”

The Hwasong-15 missile fired from Pyongyang’s international airport on Saturday fell into the Sea of Japan around 125 miles (201km) west of northwestern Oshima Island, according to Tokyo’s Vice Minister of Defence Toshiro Ino.

A South Korean military official said the test apparently involved a new weapons system displayed at a recent North Korean military parade, possibly
using solid fuel. This observation has worried many leaders in the Pacific region as well as across the world as it appears to signal a serious escalation by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The United States responded by flying long-range supersonic bombers in a show of force later on Sunday for separate joint exercises with South Korean and Japanese warplanes.

North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles has created tensions and instability in the region and beyond. The reclusive communist country has conducted multiple nuclear tests and missile launches in violation of international norms, leading to sanctions and increased isolation from the international community. This has further isolated the country and its people, and has exacerbated the economic and humanitarian crises facing North Korea.

The aggressive behavior and rhetoric there also contribute to instability in the region. The country has engaged in military provocations, such as missile tests and threats of war, that have raised tensions with neighboring countries and caused concern among the international community. North Korea’s hostile behavior and unpredictable actions have made it difficult to maintain stability in the region.

Specifically, North Korea poses a significant threat to Japan due to its history of aggression and military capabilities. It has repeatedly conducted missile tests and threatened to use its nuclear weapons, which could potentially reach Japan. This has heightened tensions between the two countries and raised concerns about the security of Japan.

Additionally, North Korea has a history of targeting Japan, such as the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. While North Korea has since returned some of the abductees, many are still missing and their fate remains unknown. This has created a deep sense of mistrust and suspicion between the two countries, and has contributed to Japan’s concerns about North Korea’s intentions.

Furthermore, North Korea’s increasing militarization and aggressive behavior has led to increased tensions in the region, and has caused Japan to take measures to protect itself by strengthening its missile defense systems, such as the Aegis Ashore system, to better defend against potential missile attacks.

North Korea’s history of aggression, its nuclear and missile capabilities, and its targeting of Japan through abductions and military provocations, have all contributed to the threat that North Korea poses not only to Japan but to the entire region and beyond.

The issue of North Korea and its potential to threaten regional and global instability is a complex and multifaceted one, with no easy or straightforward solution. However, there are several actions that the international community can take to address this issue.

The United States and its allies must maintain a strong military presence in the region to deter North Korea from taking aggressive actions. This can include joint military exercises and the deployment of military assets such as ships and aircraft. A strong and consistent multinational military presence in the region demonstrates to North Korea that the international community is serious and will not take threats lightly.

The United Nations and other countries must impose even stronger economic sanctions on North Korea to limit its ability to finance its nuclear weapons program and other activities that pose a threat to international security. Sanctions must include restrictions on trade, travel, and financial transactions.

Lastly, the international community can simultaneously engage in diplomatic efforts to encourage North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program and reduce tensions in the region. This can include negotiations, mediation, and dialogue between North Korea and other countries. However, it must be stressed that diplomacy with a communist regime like North Korea must be coupled with a credible military threat and strong sanctions. Without these factors, diplomacy and negotiation are useless and will lead nowhere.

Unfortunately, China plays a significant role in North Korea’s ability to evade international sanctions. Despite being a member of the United Nations Security Council, which has imposed several rounds of sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear weapons program, China has been accused of helping North Korea circumvent these sanctions, for instance, by providing North Korea with essential goods such as oil, coal, and food, which are subject to sanctions. China also provides North Korea with access to its banking system, enabling the country to engage in illicit financial activities and evade sanctions.

Another way in which China helps North Korea evade international sanctions is by turning a blind eye to smuggling activities. Reports suggest that Chinese companies have been involved in smuggling goods into North Korea, including luxury items, which are also subject to sanctions. China has also been accused of turning a blind eye to the transfer of weapons and technology to North Korea, which could further enhance the country’s military capabilities.

Without a cooperative China, the international community cannot and should not expect North Korean compliance anytime soon. However, even as China assists North Korea, a credible military threat and sanctions should continue to be fully enforced and western leaders should continue to engage both countries on reducing hostilities and ending the North Korean missile threat.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.