By Prabasi Nepali
North Korea Escalates Tensions in North-East Asia
The US Pacific Command confirmed North Korea launched an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) last Friday. It also said the launch did not pose a threat to the continental US or to the US Pacific territory of Guam (3,400 km away, south-east of Taiwan), which Pyongyang has repeatedly threatened with ‘enveloping fire’. Seoul’s defence ministry confirmed the launch of the IRBM and said it travelled around 3,700 kilometres and reached a maximum altitude of 770 km. The North has thus again raised global tensions with its rapid progress in weapons technology under Kim, who is regularly pictured by state media overseeing launches (and celebrating their successes with the military and engineers) and visiting facilities. In a special piece for the “New York Times”, Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe wrote: “The whole world confronts an unprecedented, grave and imminent threat from North Korea”, furthermore “Pyongyang has shown its reach now extends to the United States and Europe.”
Yang Uk, a missile expert with the “Korea Defence and Security Forum” told “Agence France Presse” (AFP) : “The North appears to have resolved technical difficulties in launching the missiles from TELs [transporter erector launchers, instead of makeshift launch pads];” this means “the North is ready to deploy the IRBM Hwasong-12 for combat purposes,” and with its mobility being increased, “the Hwasong-12 poses an imminent threat to the US and its allies in the region.” After all, not only Guam, but American bases in South Korea and Japan – the strategic calculus in North-East Asia had shifted. The North’s previous missile launch, the same Hwasong-12 IRBM just over two weeks ago, also overflew Japan’s main islands and was the first do so after nearly a decade.
This was clearly a tit-for-tat response from the North. The official Korean Central News Agency” reported the elusive leader Kim Jong-Un vowing to complete Pyongyang’s nuclear arms programme: “Our final goal is to establish the equilibrium of real force with the US and make the US rulers dare not talk about military option for the DPRK” [the official name: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]. Kim further claimed the country was close to the goal of completing its nuclear ambitions and should use all power at its disposal to complete
the task, saying it had “nearly reached the terminal.” In spite of US President Donald Trump’s bellicose rhetoric, the young and dynamic leader (to his countrymen, at least) was euphoric in that he claimed Friday’s launch had increased the North’s “combat power of the nuclear force”. He proclaimed the way forward: “We should clearly show the big power chauvinists how our state [can] attain the goal of completing its nuclear force despite their limitless sanctions and blockade.” Trump disparaged Kim as the “Rocket Man”, but he has undoubtedly signaled both defiance to his antagonists (US, Japan, South Korea, UN) and his country’s extensive technological advance. The growing frequency, power and confidence displayed by the tests has left the Trump administration in a quandary.
Although “North Korea’s actions are an outright challenge to the international community” (Shinzo Abe), it continues to display impotence. The United Nations Security Council [again] condemned Friday’s launch as “highly provocative” and US President Donald Trump scheduled talks with the leaders of Japan and South Korea to address the revolving, never-ending crisis. In response to Friday’s missile firing, South Korea’s military immediately carried out a ballistic missile drill of its own [again], with the defence ministry saying it took place while the North’s rocket was still airborne. South Korean missile expert Yang told AFP that Kim’s stated ambition of achieving a military balance with the US was some way off: “It’s too unrealistic for North Korea to reach equilibrium in nuclear force with the US.” However, “Within three to five years, the North is expected to be capable of operating nuclear missiles as deterrence.”
Russia and China (North Korea’s main allay), had last week on Monday backed a US-drafted resolution (considerably watered down from the original draft in order to dodge a Russian/Chinese veto) at the UN Security Council to impose fresh sanctions on Pyongyang – but both maintain dialogue [ bilateral/multilateral ! ?] is key to defuse the crisis. These sanctions banned the North’s textile trade (‘Made in China’ T-Shirts could be fabricated in North Korea), stopped new work permits for its migrant workers ( mostly in Russia), and imposed restrictions on shipments of oil products (mostly imports from China), among other measures.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron have also jointly appealed for talks with North Korea, saying this was the only way to resolve tensions over its missile and nuclear weapons programmes. This exhortation was directed at the United States and Japan, which have called for pressure to be preferably intensified through sanctions, rather than constraining hopes on talks. However, according to Shinzo Abe,
“prioritizing diplomacy and emphasizing the importance of dialogue will not work with North Korea.” US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley (now the unchallenged protagonist of US foreign policy) was even more blunt. She rejected the Chinese/Russian proposal for a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a suspension of US-South Korea military exercises (or ‘war games’) as pure and simple “insulting”, and that if Pyongyang should reach the point where it poses a serious threat to the US and its allies, “North Korea will be destroyed.”
Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in exchanged views on the telephone and “gravely condemned” the latest missile test, and “ agreed on more practical and stronger pressure . . . . to make the North Korean regime realize that further provocation will only bring stronger diplomatic isolation and economic pressure leading to a path of collapse.” The confrontation in Asia’s North-East – as well as the Rohingya refugee crisis – will definitely be debated during and on the sidelines of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
Myanmar: No End to “Ethnic Cleansing”
The exodus of ethnic Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine State in Myanmar into Bangladesh has now swollen to more than 410,000. This is in addition to the already 400,000 refugees who had already escaped the violence in their ancestral villages before the latest crisis erupted on August 25 when Rohingya insurgents – calling themselves the “Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army” (ARSA)– retaliated against 30 police posts and an army camp killing about a dozen people. The Myanmar security forces and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes took massive revenge and exploited the full force of the state in a campaign of systematic violence and arson aimed at driving out the Muslim population from Myanmar.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council have urged Myanmar to end the violence, which he said was best described as “ethnic cleansing”. “Ethnic cleansing” is not recognized as a separate crime under international law but allegations of it as part of wider, systematic human rights violations have been heard in international courts. The Myanmar government and security forces are not only already culpable of such brutality, but also of death and destruction on a mass scale – including the use of forbidden land mines – which is equivalent to genocide. Those guilty of such crimes cannot expect to go scot-free. The UN head has placed the onus squarely on Aung San Suu Kyi – who has unfortunately, but conveniently absented herself from participation in this year’s UNGA . Guterres has given her “a last chance” to terminate the military offensive, otherwise “If she does not reverse the situation now, then I think the tragedy will be absolutely horrible, and unfortunately then I don’t see how this can be reversed in the future” [!]
Bangladesh has now accused Myanmar of repeatedly violating its air space by drones and helicopters and “expressed deep concern at the repetition of such acts of provocation and demanded that Myanmar takes immediate measures to ensure that such violence of sovereignty does not occur again.” The government also signaled that its patience had reached breaking point: “These provocative acts may lead to unwarranted consequences” [!] Bangladesh has demanded that all refugees must go home to their villages in Rakhine State. PM Sheikh Hasina is expected to up the ante at UNGA. Expect Nepalese PM Sher Bahadur Deuba [The “Lion-Hearted”] to take a ’neutral-diplomatic’, but cowardly stance.The civilian government of Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been extremely reluctant to undertake any concrete measures in order to stop the bloodshed and brutality, let alone speak out against the atrocities. It seems she is in thrall to the radical Buddhist majority (which widely supports the military operation in Rakhine State) and the military, with which she still shares power.
Army Chief General Min Aung Hlaing is in no mood to make concessions, and flippantly characterized the clashes as a bid by the insurgents “to build a stronghold”. According to “Human Rights Watch”, it is now incumbent on the UN Security Council and concerned countries to “impose targeted sanctions and an arms embargo on the Burmese military to end its ethnic cleansing campaign”, so that they finally heed the calls of the international community after themselves suffering real economic consequences.