Focus Shift from the Korean Peninsula to the Asian Pacific Region

A North Korean soldier defected to South Korea in November 2017. North Korea has started to dig trenches at the DMZ border and also replaced its border guards soon thereafter. North Korean ships often have drifted ashore in Japan since then with sometimes either dead bodies and no corpses at all. Despite such a situation, North Korea did again another missile test after the last one in September 2017. The North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced that its ICBM project nears completion. The credibility of his announcement is questionable, though. It might simply imply that he was under pressure from within and without; meanwhile the US and South Korea started joint exercises.

US president Trump criticized the security politics against North Korea by his predecessor. If Trump followed up on his words, he would have to use force against North Korea in the near future unless Kim Jong Un refrains from further nuclear and missile tests. The stronger the pressure against Trump due to the Russian investigations and other domestic issues, the higher is the probability of the US striking North Korea.

However, North Korea might be neither a real danger nor of any interest to the USA. China and Russia already possess ICBMs. It is said that North Korea’s erratic behavior causes fear to the US, but the strategy of Kim Jong Un seems to be rational and consequent so far. The US has pressed China for (more) severe sanctions against North Korea; however, it is more or less clear that China   would not carry out these demands. As for China, the status quo on the Korean peninsula is reasonable now because its expansion politics in the South China Sea fall out of focus. Since North Korea is not (yet) an actual threat to the US concerning military power and geo-strategies, Trump might avoid direct involvement in the issue of North Korea. The deployments in Afghanistan and in the Middle East also burden the US military that already suffers from former president Obama’s budget cuts. Despite these circumstances if the US struck North Korea, what could America gain from it? Trump already announced that the US has no intention to remain in North Korea after an attack.

There is, though, another concern like the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East and Africa. Terrorist groups and Iran in particular are thereby pointed at. Should time pass without any action, North Korea would use it to both complete the development of ICBMs and compact nuclear heads. If Trump’s priority is set to avoid proliferating nuclear weapons and missiles, the USA would either attack North Korea or make agreements with North Korea not to sell its nuclear and missile technologies. Since North Korea has not kept agreements with the USA, its credibility is, however, almost none. It seems that Trump faces a dead-end situation. If the interests of America are considered again, the Korean Peninsula would be neither geopolitically nor economically superior to China and Israel and the Middle East. Seen in this light, the Korean Peninsula would come under Chinese influence in the future, irrespective of whether North Korea remains.

The power balance in the South China Sea and the Asian Pacific region might be structured by either two or three powers: the US and China or an alliance of Japan, Australia, the UK and India besides the US and China.

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