Shadow of war looms as Washington-Pyongyang tensions escalate

By Li Jiacheng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/4/13 19:23:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The situation on the Korean Peninsula has been turbulent for the past three months. With US President Donald Trump's Syria strike and US aircraft carrier's redirection to the waters near the peninsula, risks for an open war have reached new heights.

The US ordered the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group, which was supposed to be sailing from Singapore to Australia, to the Western Pacific Ocean last week for a show of force against Pyongyang's nuclear and missile provocations.

So far, the US has already deployed two aircraft carrier-led strike groups and two amphibious strike groups near the Korean Peninsula. These forces would be the first to attack if a real war breaks out.

The US' redirecting the aircraft carriers to the peninsula has attracted a great deal of attention from the international community. Given the unpredictability of Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the public is divided on whether the move is Washington's unilateral preemptive measure, or routine military exercises to deter Pyongyang.

North Korea is known for its unpredictability and unyielding stance against coercion. It is preparing for the sixth nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, which are speculated to be carried out on the upcoming Saturday, the anniversary of the country's late leader Kim Il-sung's birth, or on April 25, the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army, or May 9, around South Korea's presidential election.

In the meantime, Trump's Pyongyang policy is quite different from that of his predecessor. The Trump administration has claimed on several occasions that "all options are on the table" against Pyongyang's provocations. This means the use of military force is a possibility for Washington.

If neither the US nor North Korea would give in, the risk that the situation on the Korea Peninsula will get out of control will increase. Once North Korea makes any provocations, direct military confrontations between Pyongyang and Washington could occur. This has exacerbated the rumors of an "April crisis" on the peninsula that a war on the peninsula could be imminent, triggering fear and insecurity among the South Korean people.

Now, China has become a ballast stone for peace and stability on the peninsula. During the phone call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump on Wednesday, Xi stressed that China supports the realization of denuclearization of the peninsula, and maintenance of peace and stability there. He also advocates resolving the problem through peaceful means and he is willing to maintain communication and coordination with the US side on the issue of the peninsula. This undoubtedly eased the worries of all parties involved in the volatile situation on the peninsula.

North Korea is not Syria. It may have the ability to strike South Korea and Japan with nuclear weapon. If the US makes a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, Pyongyang will attack South Korea, Japan and the US forces stationed in the two countries. What's more, the war will not be a blitz but a protracted one, which will require a lot of energy from the countries involved. In the current situation, possibility is still low that the US will initiate a war on the peninsula. However, because of Trump's unpredictability, it is difficult to predict his policy toward the region. Perhaps on Sunday, when US Vice President Mike Pence visits South Korea, the situation on the Korean Peninsula will become clearer.

The author is a research fellow at the Research Center for the Economies and Politics of Transitional Countries, Liaoning University.


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