Moscow, Beijing hold off Us-korean bid

Sunday Tribune - - OPINION - Elena Vanyna

ON SEPTEM­BER 15, North Korea fired an­other bal­lis­tic mis­sile which flew 3700km over Ja­pan and fell into the Pa­cific 2000km from Cape Erimo in Hokkaido. The mis­sile had the range to at­tack for­eign in­fra­struc­ture and Amer­i­can bases.

The US has called for crank­ing up in­ter­na­tional pres­sure on Py­ongyang and made it clear it might use force against North Korea, essen­tially black­mail­ing other coun­tries by threat­en­ing them with a war on the Korean Penin­sula.

North Korea’s ma­ni­a­cal deter­mi­na­tion to con­tinue its nu­clear mis­sile pro­gramme de­fies and scares the world. Peo­ple in many coun­tries are wor­ried that Py­ongyang has gone too far and that the un­pre­dictable US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump would re­spond dis­pro­por­tion­ately, plung­ing the en­tire re­gion en­com­pass­ing South Korea, Ja­pan, Rus­sia’s Far East and other East Asian coun­tries into the chaos of a new world war.

Rus­sia’s po­si­tion on the is­sue has been firm and con­sis­tent over the past 10 years as North Korea built up its nu­clear po­ten­tial and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity re­sponded with harsh, but use­less sanc­tions against it.

“These sanc­tions will bear no fruit but will only em­bit­ter them fur­ther,” Rus­sian diplo­mats kept say­ing.

While North Kore­ans had noth­ing to eat, their govern­ment con­tin­ued to in­vest mil­lions in nu­clear weapons, fear­ing South Korea, with US as­sis­tance, would oblit­er­ate their state. The sit­u­a­tion was sim­mer­ing.

But then Py­ongyang ven­tured too far as im­pul­sive Trump re­placed cau­tious Barack Obama in the White House, and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity be­came se­ri­ously con­cerned. Just a few days ago, sev­eral of­fi­cials from Trump’s team did not rule out the use of force against North Korea.

Trump hoped to ask Moscow and Beijing to use their in­flu­ence with Py­ongyang, which would have no choice but to back off, but they have their own views of the sit­u­a­tion and won’t blindly do Wash­ing­ton’s bid­ding.

Fol­low­ing the bel­liger­ent rhetoric of the US, China and Rus­sia, which have re­peat­edly called for a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment, held a joint naval ex­er­cise off North Korea.

The US and South Korea plan to or­gan­ise their own ma­noeu­vres next month. They will in­volve a nu­cle­ar­pow­ered US air­craft car­rier and take place if North Korea strikes again.

Rus­sia’s Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin con­demned Py­ongyang’s mis­sile tests as provoca­tive but warned there was no so­lu­tion to the prob­lem other than di­a­logue. “They would rather eat grass than give up the (nu­clear) pro­gramme if they do not feel safe. What can make them feel safe? The restora­tion of in­ter­na­tional law,” Putin said. He urged all sides con­cerned to co-op­er­ate.

“Clearly, sanc­tions and pres­sure alone can­not re­solve the North Korean nu­clear is­sue. One should not give in to emo­tions and drive North Korea into a cor­ner,” Putin warned af­ter talks with South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in.

A se­nior re­searcher at Rus­sia’s In­sti­tute for Far East­ern Stud­ies, Vasily Kashin, be­lieves sanc­tions are use­less. “In re­sponse, North Korea will sim­ply raise the stakes and take more men­ac­ing ac­tions in the hope that the op­po­nent will back down. We may see new launches and tests and prob­a­bly even mil­i­tary provo­ca­tion,” he said.

The UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil sup­ported the US bid and im­posed harsher sanc­tions on North Korea. They pro­hibit petroleum prod­uct sup­plies to the coun­try and ban its tex­tile ex­ports.

Amer­i­can ex­perts claim these and the pre­vi­ous sanc­tions should strip Py­ongyang of 90% of its ex­port rev­enue. Last year, North Korea’s ex­ports were es­ti­mated at $2.7bil­lion (R35.6bn), in­clud­ing $760mil­lion from tex­tiles.

When the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity took stronger ac­tion against North Korea in early Au­gust af­ter a se­ries of mis­sile tests, Moscow warned that the ef­fect from sanc­tions had al­ready reached its limit and called for re­sum­ing the six-party talks (North Korea, the US, China, Rus­sia, South Korea and Ja­pan).

Rus­sia’s Per­ma­nent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the UN, Vasily Neben­zya, stressed af­ter the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil vote that “Rus­sia does not ac­cept North Korea’s claims for nu­clear power sta­tus and has sup­ported all of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions that de­mand an end to Py­ongyang’s nu­clear mis­sile pro­grammes in the in­ter­ests of de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion of the Korean Penin­sula.” He also warned fur­ther re­stric­tive mea­sures against North Korea could be tan­ta­mount to “at­tempts to sti­fle it”.

Al­though Rus­sia is con­fi­dent that sanc­tions are in­ef­fec­tive, it did not block the UN res­o­lu­tion. It agreed to support the doc­u­ment af­ter its most con­tro­ver­sial pro­vi­sions had been deleted. Some of these called for the de­por­ta­tion of North Korean labour mi­grants (thou­sands of whom are work­ing in Rus­sia) and au­tho­rised the seizure and in­spec­tion of ships in open seas.

If China and Rus­sia had blocked the Us-backed res­o­lu­tion, this would hardly have helped start the talks sooner. Moscow in­sists that they should re­sume in the six-party for­mat that worked un­til 2009 when they were bro­ken off.

Pend­ing the talks, Rus­sia and China will play an in­tri­cate game, sup­port­ing the pres­sure on North Korea to nudge it to­wards di­a­logue while urg­ing Wash­ing­ton to set­tle the con­flict diplo­mat­i­cally.

Moscow and Beijing will not let North Korea be de­stroyed.

Mil­i­tary Rus­sia on­line por­tal founder Dmitry Kornev said North Korea could put up strong re­sis­tance and carry out a mas­sive mo­bil­i­sa­tion if at­tacked.

“In the event of a large-scale con­flict, af­ter an at­tack by the US or its al­lies, we may ex­pect Py­ongyang’s in­va­sion of South Korea, which is likely to suc­ceed. The North is bet­ter armed and has a big­ger army. Es­ti­mates vary, but its army is be­lieved to be 690000 to 1.2mil­lion strong,” the ex­pert told Rus­sia Today.

“But Py­ongyang will soon run out of luck and no one will stick up for it. Rus­sia and China are likely to re­main neu­tral, while South Korea will get all the as­sis­tance from the US,” Kornev said.

In his opinion, Py­ongyang would be doomed to de­feat, but the US would have to en­gage its ground forces. “It will be some­thing like the air-and-ground op­er­a­tions we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq – cer­tainly not a plea­sure trip. It will most likely take about six months to de­stroy the North Korean army,” he said.

Kornev be­lieves Py­ongyang is well aware of the dis­as­trous out­come of the war and does not want es­ca­la­tion. He at­tributes its con­stant sabr­erat­tling to do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal fac­tors and hopes to get fi­nan­cial aid in ex­change for talks.

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