North Korean state media has warned the US of a “super-mighty pre-emptive strike” if it interferes to try and disrupt North Korea’s nuclear program. Tensions around the Korean peninsula are severely heightened following a series of North Korean missile launches, and bullish rhetoric from the US Trump administration.
Early into his presidency, US President Trump took a hard line with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. However, while impressing some policy hawks domestically, Trump’s Asia-Pacific foreign policy has aggravated the Chinese, who fear the US may take unilateral action without including Beijing.
North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been "playing" the United States for years. China has done little to help!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2017
Also, bristling, are the North Koreans themselves.
The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, said on Thursday 20th April.
“In the case of our super-mighty pre-emptive strike being launched, it will completely and immediately wipe out not only US imperialists’ invasion forces in South Korea and its surrounding areas but the US mainland and reduce them to ashes.”
North Korea has threatened to annihilate South Korea, Japan and the US in aggressive rantings in the past.
But what is new, is the particularly urgent sense of escalating destabilization in the region, due to a number of recent developments.
On Saturday 16th April, North Korea fired ballistic missile to mark a national celebration. It failed but was the latest in a series of missile launches that have antagonized Pynonygang’s neighbors and world powers.
In response, on Wednesday, April 19, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US was considering whether to re-add North Korea to its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
North Korea was removed from the US’ terror list in 2008, after North Korea agreed to share information on its nuclear weapons inventory. The former Bush administration had expected that the move would lead to disarmament negotiations, but talks soon thereafter collapsed.
“We’re reviewing all the status of North Korea, both in terms of state sponsorship of terrorism as well as the other ways in which we can bring pressure on the regime in Pyongyang to re-engage with us, but re-engage with us on a different footing than past talks have been held,” Tillerson told reporters.
“We are evaluating all of those options.”
Tillerson’s speech sought to strengthen the US’s position on North Korea after an embarrassing gaffe over the location of one of it’s navy strike groups.
US President Donald Trump had previously stated in a TV interview that he was sending the US Navy towards the Korean peninsula in a show of US military might.
Embarrassingly, the Trump administration was then forced to do an about-face when it was revealed that the USS Carl Vinson strike group was actually nearly 3,500 miles away and heading in the opposite direction, towards Australia to conduct drills with the Australian navy.
Chinese, South and North Korean media have all picked up on the credibility issues the US has with both it’s allies and opponents in the region.
South Korean newspaper Joong Ang Ilbo’s Wednesday, April 19, headline declared “Trump’s lie over the Carl Vinson,” with a subheading: “Xi Jinping and Putin must have had a good jeer over this one.”
The editorial went on:
“Like North Korea, which is often accused of displaying fake missiles during military parades, is the United States, too, now employing ‘bluffing’ as its North Korea policy?”
Meanwhile, one of the candidates for South Korea’s upcoming May presidential election, Hong Joon-pyo, went after US President rump himself.
“What Mr. Trump said was very important for the national security of South Korea,” Hong Joon-pyo told the Wall Street Journal.
“If that was a lie, then during Trump’s term, South Korea will not trust whatever Trump says,” said Hong.
Officially, the US, Russia and China continue to be in disagreement over exactly how to condemn North Korea’s latest failed ballistic missile test.
With both the US and North Korean leaders being so unpredictable, North Korea’s neighbors are likely to continue to live under mounting tension.
It’s unclear whether Pyongyang has the capacity to mount the kind of devastating pre-emptive strike that they threaten to deploy. Also, unclear is whether President Trump will resort to his own unilateral strike against North Korea, following his recent historic intervention in Syria.