North Korea’s provocative move

January 08, 2016 02:17 am | Updated November 17, 2021 03:02 am IST

The underground >nuclear test by North Korea that apparently used a hydrogen bomb has expectedly aggravated tensions in East Asia. South Korea, which called the explosion an “unpardonable provocation”, has already cancelled cross-border initiatives. Japan has termed it a “serious threat” to its national security. Most >major global powers, from the United States to Russia and even China, have condemned the explosion . The provocation is likely to invite more economic punitive measures by the United Nations Security Council. The North Korean economy is going through a tough phase, and any further sanctions would jeopardise it further. Why Kim Jong-un took the extreme step now is anybody’s guess, though the move itself was not surprising given the regime’s sinister, paranoid ways of operating. Ever since Mr. Kim became North Korea’s leader after his father’s death in 2011, he has flexed the country’s military muscle and caused provocations without hinting at any tangible foreign policy goal. He ordered the country’s third nuclear test, which led directly to additional UN sanctions. Tensions escalated between the two Koreas last year after they exchanged artillery fire. With the latest hydrogen bomb explosion claim, he has upped the ante in this game of provocations.

Mr. Kim’s aim could be to tighten his grip of power over the state. The >number of executions in North Korea reportedly rose under his watch , triggering speculation over whether the regime is facing internal strains. In 2013, Mr. Kim had ordered the execution of his uncle and former mentor. He may also be playing a high-stakes diplomatic game for an Iran-like deal where he could swap his country’s nuclear arsenal for international recognition and economic partnership. The third and more likely explanation is that Mr. Kim is sending a message to South Korea and the West that his regime is ready to go to any extreme in the wake of military hostilities. This clearly demonstrates the failure of the nuclear diplomacy which the U.S. and other major powers were involved in for the past several years. Whatever Mr. Kim’s real intentions, his moves come at the cost of regional stability, and pose dangerous portents for the world. The only country that could reason with North Korea and persuade it to join back talks is China. Even for Beijing, despite its historical ties with Pyongyang, it is a daunting task. Mr. Kim does not seem to be particularly interested in the “China-ally” tag. In September, >he refused an invitation from Chinese President Xi Jinping to attend celebrations marking the end of the Second World War. Four years after coming to power, he is yet to visit Beijing. Despite his detachment and potential militarism, the world doesn’t really have any option but to resume talks with Pyongyang. China has the historical responsibility to lead the efforts to solve the crisis on the Korean peninsula, much like what the Russians did in securing the Iran deal.

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