The US and South Korea are holding a joint naval exercise in the East Sea on Monday, as South Korean media have been widely predicting an upcoming third nuclear test by North Korea. Observers have naturally been linking the two issues as evidence of the intensity of the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
It appears that North Korea is determined to possess nuclear power. Pyongyang's fickle attitude toward negotiations has bought time for the country's nuclear ambitions. With Pyongyang moving closer to developing an atomic bomb with combat capabilities, the main global powers will either have to accept this as reality, or the US will adopt extreme actions against North Korea despite concerns regarding stability from Northeast Asian countries.
Will the US conduct "surgical strikes" on Pyongyang's nuclear facilities? Washington has in the past threatened such strikes against countries approaching the nuclear threshold, but never carried them out. The only similar strike was Israel's 1981 strike against Iraq which was under the rule of Saddam Hussein at the time.
We hope such an extreme situation will never come to the Korean Peninsula, since that would be a disaster for the whole Northeast Asia. Asia is the heart of world economic growth nowadays, but meanwhile, the increasingly active problems in the region pose threats to regional peace and order. Pyongyang has been long isolated from the region's prosperity. Its nuclear ambition is a desperate reaction to its external environment.
There are many active entities in East Asia, South Asia and West Asia when it comes to developing strategic capabilities. The changing balance of power in Asia has led to various uncertainties. Unlike in Europe, there is no collective security mechanism in Asia. The disorder caused by regional powers striving for their own security will remain.
China has been caught up in some disputes, plus being confined by the US, it cannot play a leading role in the construction of an Asian collective security system. But China cannot give up efforts to build regional peace.
China has the largest stake in Asia, and it will be hit hardest if the situation in Asia becomes disordered. If China doesn't become more active in solving regional hot issues, it will inevitably be affected.
Although China initiated the Six-Party Talks, it played a limited role in the process of de-escalating confrontation after the talks were interrupted. If the situation in the Korea Peninsula gets out of control, China is very likely to be passively involved in the chaos. But if it takes active measures to deal with the situation, the strategic results will be different.
The US may inhibit China's space to take the initiative in solving the peninsula issue, but do we have too many misgivings about the US factor? Is China overly concerned of the significance of US containment policies toward China? China should gradually make clearer its policies on the peninsula situation, clearly showing the outside world its bottom line. For the Korean Peninsula issue, if China plays an active role, it won't be caught unprepared if the situation deteriorates.