Wor­ries ease, though Trump mulls ‘sad day’

South less con­cerned than 10 years ago

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

SEOUL/WASH­ING­TON: South Kore­ans feel in­creas­ingly doubt­ful that North Korea will start a war, a sur­vey re­leased yes­ter­day showed, just days af­ter its largest nu­clear test and as US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump again high­lighted the pos­si­bil­ity of mil­i­tary ac­tion.

Ex­perts be­lieve the iso­lated regime is close to its goal of de­vel­op­ing a pow­er­ful nu­clear weapon ca­pa­ble of reaching the United States, some­thing Mr Trump has vowed to pre­vent.

Still, a Gallup Korea sur­vey showed South Kore­ans were con­sid­er­ably less con­cerned about war com­pared with June 2007, nine months af­ter North Korea con­ducted its first nu­clear test, in Septem­ber 2006.

The sur­vey found that 58% of those ques­tioned felt there was no pos­si­bil­ity North Korea would cause a war, while only 24% thought it was pos­si­ble.

In 2007, 51% of re­spon­dents said they ex­pected a war, while 45% did not.

Mr Trump has re­peat­edly said all op­tions are on the ta­ble in deal­ing with North Korea, in­clud­ing mil­i­tary ones.

He said on Thurs­day he would pre­fer not to use mil­i­tary ac­tion, but if he did, it would be a “very sad day” for North Korea.

“Mil­i­tary ac­tion would cer­tainly be an op­tion. Is it in­evitable? Noth­ing is in­evitable,” Mr Trump said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence.

“If we do use it on North Korea, it will be a very sad day for North Korea.”

Even as Mr Trump has in­sisted that now is not the time to talk, se­nior mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion have made clear that the door to a diplo­matic so­lu­tion is open, es­pe­cially given the US as­sess­ment that any pre-emp­tive strike would un­leash mas­sive North Korean re­tal­i­a­tion.

North Korea con­tends it needs its weapons as a self-de­fence mea­sure against US ag­gres­sion.

South Korea and the United States are tech­ni­cally still at war with North Korea af­ter the 1950-53 Korean con­flict ended with a truce rather than the sign­ing of a peace treaty.

The USS Ron­ald Rea­gan, a nu­cle­ar­pow­ered car­rier, left its home port of Yoko­suka, south­west of Tokyo, yes­ter­day for a rou­tine au­tumn pa­trol of the Western Pacific, a Navy spokes­woman said.

That area in­cluded the Sea of Ja­pan, be­tween Ja­pan and the Korean penin­sula, she added, with­out giv­ing any fur­ther de­tails.

The Ron­ald Rea­gan was out on rou­tine pa­trol from May un­til Au­gust, and was sent to the Sea of Ja­pan with the an­other car­rier, the USS Carl Vin­son, to take part in drills with Ja­pan’s Self De­fence Forces as well as the South Korean mil­i­tary.

North Korea ve­he­mently ob­jects to mil­i­tary ex­er­cises on or near the penin­sula, and China and Rus­sia have sug­gested the US and South Korea halt their ex­er­cises to lower ten­sions.

While Mr Trump talked tough on North Korea, China agreed on Thurs­day that the United Na­tions should take more ac­tion against the regime, but it also kept push­ing for di­a­logue to help re­solve the stand­off.

The US wants the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to im­pose an oil em­bargo on North Korea, ban its ex­ports of tex­tiles and the hir­ing of North Korean labour­ers abroad, and to sub­ject leader Kim Jong-un to an as­set freeze and travel ban, ac­cord­ing to a draft res­o­lu­tion seen on Wed­nes­day.

China is by far North Korea’s big­gest trad­ing part­ner, ac­count­ing for 92% of twoway trade last year.

It also pro­vides hun­dreds of thou­sands of tonnes of oil and fuel to the im­pov­er­ished regime.

China’s eco­nomic in­flu­ence has been felt by South Korea as well.

The two coun­tries have been at log­ger­heads over South Korea’s de­ci­sion to de­ploy a US anti-mis­sile sys­tem, the Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense (Thaad), which has a pow­er­ful radar that can probe deep into China.

The mil­i­tary sec­tion of China’s Global Times news­pa­per on Thurs­day re­ferred to Thaad as “a ma­lig­nant tu­mour”.

EPA

South Korean protesters rally against the Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fence sys­tem near the US em­bassy in Seoul yes­ter­day.

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