ANALYST: IT’S THEIR CLASSIC RESPONSE
North Korea applying textbook method of using force to handle political disputes
DEALING with a notorious murder by detonating a huge diplomatic row, and firing missiles as a practice assault on United States bases in Japan — North Korea’s recent actions demonstrate its willingness to escalate tensions whatever the consequences, say analysts.
Pyongyang on Tuesday banned all Malaysian citizens from leaving North Korea, its latest move in an increasingly heated feud over the assassination of leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysian police are investigating the death of Kim Jong-nam, who was killed last month by two women using the VX nerve agent, but all fingers have pointed to Pyongyang as the culprit behind the murder.
The North has denied any involvement, denouncing the Malaysian probe as a “smear campaign” to tarnish the country, before the two engaged in tit-for-tat expulsions of their ambassadors.
Daniel Pinkston, an analyst at Troy University here, said the North’s belligerent response followed its textbook method of using force to handle political disputes.
“There is a famous quote in their literature: if someone brings a pistol, bring a cannon. That’s how they operate.”
The travel ban on Malaysians came on the same day that Pyongyang described the launch of four missiles — three of which came down in waters that are part of Japan’s exclusive economic zone — as a practice drill for a strike on US military bases in the country. The direct challenge to Washington comes with a new, famously unpredictable president in the White House who is still formulating his approach to North Korea.
On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump at times implied that negotiations could be an option, but in phone calls on Tuesday reaffirmed Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to allies Japan and South Korea and warned of “very dire consequences” for Pyongyang.
“It would seem like common sense to behave well before Trump sets his policy, but North Korea is just going its own way regardless of the consequences,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University. Trump talks of achieving peace through strength and the North seems to be applying the same logic, although it can’t compete in terms of strength.”
Being blamed for Jong-nam’s killing — Malaysian authorities are still seeking to question seven North Koreans over it — could mean tougher international sanctions, including being put back on Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Analysts say the feud with Kuala Lumpur is a calculated move before Malaysia announces the final results of its probe.
“This is obviously destroying bilateral relations with Malaysia but I think at the end of the day, that falls fairly low on North Korea’s list of priorities,” said John Delury, a professor of international relations at Yonsei University.
In any case, he added: “Once Malaysia comes to a conclusion and they deny it, they are at loggerheads and having a public fight about it.”