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US-China Rupture and North Korea

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There is a shift in international security order from Euro-Atlantic to Asia, and more precisely Asia-Pacific. The US is still the sole super power, though struggling, its power has been challenged, if not ended, in the Asian affairs. China’s rise and resurgence of Russia have made the Asian continent to look to other alternatives than the US. But again, speaking precisely, the US has traditionally been a Pacific power. Even the former President Obama during his address to an Australian Parliament back in 2011 had confirmed this while saying, “The United States is a Pacific power and we are here to stay.” If one closely monitors the geo-political trends, the Asia-pacific region is not well due to internal and external factors. Two Koreas, i.e. South and North are at daggers drawn. China-Japan relations stand murky due to Senkaku islands. The US is already in the region with its “rebalancing” policy, having more focussed on naval presence after President Trump came to Oval office, which is more dangerous than Obama’s who focussed more on Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Therefore, it could be said that the Asia-Pacific today stands one of the most vulnerable regions of the world.

There is no denying the fact that China and the US today stand the two most important countries, which could make an impact in world affairs. Because, the post-9/11 world order stands divided between the West and the rest (Asia mainly) today than ever before. But, the dilemma is the two largest economies of the world don’t seem comfortable with each other. President Trump has recently asked for investigations, if any, on “intellectual property” (IP) and “advanced technology” against China due to alleged unfair trade practices. This could be a bargain chip used by the US to make China use its economic leverage on North Korea to submit to the US demands. Because, North Korea today stands one of the most important variables in defining the future course of the US-China relations. The US needs China to fix the North Korean nuclear and missile issues. The US believes that China could use its leverages in bringing Pyongyang to a negotiating table and that too on the US terms. Lately, the US has been in a habit of asking the third country to fix the problem, which it either could not do or did not want to do. The US often asks Pakistan to fix the Afghanistan and the related issues. The same way, the US believes that the road to normalcy in the Korean peninsula runs through Beijing. Does it give an impression that the US has been declining as a sole super and deciding power, which has been unable to resolve the issues of the troubled world.

Recently, President Donald Trump has warned North Korea with “fire and fury” and Kim Jong-un has threatened to attack Guam, a tiny island in the Western Pacific considered to be the US station for keeping weapons. Guam would be the most likely target of North Korea, if anything bad happens between the US and Pyongyang. Because, ambition and nationalism could lead Kim Jong-un to war with the US. But, this war would be costly for North Korea keeping in view the might of the US and the weaknesses of Pyongyang in terms of politics or diplomacy, economy, and defence. North Korea is the most isolated country economically today than ever. If it indulges itself in any sort of misadventure, the cost would be too high to sustain. Diplomatically too, it does not enjoy enough support abroad especially in the West. Already, there is a huge concern in the Washington D.C. about US getting softer on North Korean military provocations for years. This is the reason the US national security advisor HR McMaster has recently hinted to option of “preventive war” with Pyongyang to deter it from carrying offensives in the troubled region and beyond.

But again, there is dichotomy in the US approach towards the broader East Asian region. One the one hand, the US “rebalancing” policy is there, which did annoy China and on the other hand, the US expects China to play its role in fixing the North Korean issue. There is no denying the fact that cooperation and normalcy between the US and China is important for world peace. But, the gateway to peace in the Korean peninsula runs through ASEAN, facilitated by the US and China. The ASEAN states should come up with regional framework that could at least bring some sort of indigenous solution to the Korean problem. Imported solutions have done very little in world issues, if one looks at the pages of history.

Article originally published in Regional Rapport, August 28, 2017.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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IPRI is one of the oldest non-partisan think-tanks on all facets of National Security including international relations & law, strategic studies, governance & public policy and economic security in Pakistan. Established in 1999, IPRI is affiliated with the National Security Division (NSD), Government of Pakistan.


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