NKorea’s Latest Missile Test Reminds Global Community of Asian Powder Keg | Philippines/Asia

SINGAPORE (Los Angeles Times) — With the war in Ukraine and Russia’s threats to deploy tactical nuclear weapons, it was easy to lose sight of the growing danger North Korea posed to peace in Asia.

But the reclusive state regained the world’s attention on Tuesday when it launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan for the first time since 2017, prompting Japanese people to take shelter in two prefectures across the country. north. The United States and South Korea responded by sending warplanes in a bombing exercise targeting an uninhabited island in the Yellow Sea, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

The North Korean missile, which landed in the Pacific Ocean, marked the country’s fifth round of weapons tests in 10 days. Its launch came a month after Pyongyang declared itself a nuclear-weapon state with the right to carry out a pre-emptive strike and amid growing insecurity for dictator Kim Jong Un.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is now more dangerous than ever, a point South Korean and US officials warn Pyongyang will underscore in weeks when it conducts its first nuclear test in five years in defiance of resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.

In a region once defined by trade, provocations are fueling growing concern in Asia as geopolitical tensions rise between two blocs: China, Russia and North Korea on one side and the United States, Japan and South Korea on the other.

At the root of this tension is the challenge posed by China’s growing military strength and its assertiveness on the world stage – which came out loudly in August with Chinese war games that virtually blocked Taiwan for protesting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-governing island. .

China’s aggressive stance has emboldened North Korea and pushed Tokyo and Seoul deeper under Washington’s security umbrella, analysts say.

Russia has also helped by providing Pyongyang with UN Security Council protection and buying millions of North Korean rockets and artillery shells to replenish stocks depleted after months of fighting in Ukraine, according to a US intelligence discovery released last month.

The latest two rounds of North Korean missile tests are believed to be in response to Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to South Korea on Thursday, during which she reaffirmed Washington’s “ironclad” security commitment. towards its allies in Asia, and anti-submarine exercises. the east coast of the Korean peninsula on Friday by the US, Japanese and South Korean navies.

The drills follow joint drills by US and South Korean forces in August, the largest the two countries have held in years and described by Pyongyang as a rehearsal for an invasion.

The strengthening of military ties between the United States and its Asian allies comes as Kim and his country struggle with deeper international isolation. A summit with former President Trump in 2018 did little to change North Korea’s pariah status. Trade with its most important partner, China, has been hampered by the pandemic, worsening chronic food shortages.

With his options dwindling, experts say Kim likely followed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lead in trying to use the nuclear saber to gain attention and achieve his goals – namely, recognition as a Legitimate nuclear state that should not be sanctioned.

Tuesday’s launch did the trick, said Daniel Sneider, associate professor of East Asian studies at Stanford University, who noted that the missile used did not appear to display any new technical capabilities and was likely designed to ring international alarm.

“It’s the North Koreans desperate for attention,” Sneider said. “They got everyone’s attention, didn’t they? »

What makes conditions in the region more difficult than in the past is the deterioration of relations between China and the United States. Before, Washington could sometimes count on Beijing to control Pyongyang. That moderating force is now gone, along with a South Korean government willing to accept North Korea in an effort to reduce tensions.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, having failed to persuade Pyongyang to denuclearize in exchange for help rebuilding its economy, chastised the North’s missile tests and warned of a “resolute and overwhelming response to a nuclear strike.

“The Yoon government refuses to appease Pyongyang and is more willing than its predecessor to enhance security cooperation with Washington and Tokyo,” said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “The problem is that China is doing less to contain and more to enable North Korea as the Kim regime has mistakenly convinced itself that nuclear weapons can force Seoul into submission.”

North Korea has between 40 and 50 nuclear warheads, the smallest arsenal of the nine nuclear-weapon states in the world, according to the latest data from the Arms Control Association.

This does not make the country any less dangerous. On September 9, the 74th anniversary of the nation’s founding, Kim announced that North Korea would never give up its nuclear weapons program and had the right to strike first.

North Korea’s increasingly bellicose stance may well have an effect on one of Japan’s most contentious domestic issues: remilitarization.

The sound of air raid sirens and scenes of people cowering on Tuesday as the Pyongyang missile hurtled past Japan likely bolsters the case for increased defense spending, experts say.

Japan’s sense of vulnerability has been heightened this year by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a worried northern neighbour; the assassination in July of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a supporter of rearmament; and Chinese military exercises around Taiwan, which included landing missiles near Japanese waters.

“Today’s North Korean missile will strengthen the case for those advocating for Japan’s defense capabilities,” said Robert Ward, Japan’s president at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “A key variable is, of course, public support for such changes. This has recently increased in recent times, suggesting a growing awareness of the intensity of threats to Japan’s security.

Some experts say the missile was less intended to intimidate Japan than to send a message to the United States, which condemned the launch as “dangerous and reckless”. The projectile, believed to be a Hwasong-12 that traveled 2,800 miles, could have easily reached the US territory of Guam. Its northern course also suggested a route to Hawaii.

“It was certainly a provocative action. Japan didn’t like it, but that doesn’t mean the target was Japan,” said Narushige Michishita, executive vice president and professor at the National Institute of Tokyo Political Studies.

The flurry of missile launches follows a 2006 playbook, Michishita said, when North Korea used a series of tests to force US officials back to the negotiating table after Washington imposed economic sanctions l ‘last year.

Likewise, Tuesday’s missile launch comes about a month before the U.S. midterm elections, which could add pressure on the Biden administration to respond to North Korea’s actions.

“North Korea seems to be basically sending a message that your North Korean policy is failing,” Michishita said, “and if you want to avoid criticism or further deterioration, you need to start thinking about an alternative policy.”

Pierson reported from Singapore and Yang from Taipei, Taiwan.

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