xi's moments
Home | Op-Ed Contributors

Opportunity for easing peninsula tension

By Sun Xingjie | China Daily | Updated: 2017-08-25 08:09

Protesters hold a rally against the deployment of the US missile defense system in Seoul on Saturday.Yao Qilin / Xinhua

The annual joint military exercises between the United States and the Republic of Korea have always been seen with suspicion and criticized by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The 10-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills, which ROK President Moon Jae-in described as "defensive in nature", have been dismissed by Pyongyang as a "reckless" rehearsal for invasion amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

In a Sunday editorial, the DPRK's Rodong Sinmun newspaper said the US-ROK exercise will "add fuel to the fire" and drive the situation into "the uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war". The drills, largely computer-simulated and participated by about 17,500 US troops-a cutback of 7,500 from last year-came a week after the DPRK announced a plan to fire four missiles toward the US territory of Guam.

The reduction in the number of US troops taking part in the drill is hardly a sign of relief for the DPRK, which still sees the annual exercises as a grave affront. But the rest of the world may heave a sigh of relief if nothing disastrous happens during the US-ROK drill.

The DPRK and the ROK are technically still at war as the Korean War (1950-53) ended with the signing of an armistice agreement, not a peace treaty. For the DPRK, therefore, any military drill at its doorstep could be a prelude to an attack on the country. The two major annual US-ROK drills, one held in the spring and the other in the autumn, are symptomatic of a spiral of insecurity in which the DPRK keeps pursuing advanced nuclear capability, unconvinced as it is about the "defensive nature" of those drills.

That spiral risked going out of hand in April, when the DPRK was preparing to celebrate the 105th birth anniversary of its founder Kim Il-sung. Fears over Pyongyang test-firing intercontinental missiles or even conducting a sixth nuclear test were high, either of which could have led to devastating consequences. Ostensibly, under US military pressure, the DPRK instead put on a massive display of its military personnel and arsenal.

Three months later came another turning point on the Korean Peninsula, as the DPRK successfully test-fired two intercontinental ballistic missiles, inviting fresh UN sanctions and belligerent threats from US President Donald Trump. The sudden escalation in the Washington-Pyongyang exchange of threats has pushed the peninsula closest to the brink of a nuclear war since the DPRK nuclear crisis emerged in 1994.

To many, the simmering tensions between the US and the DPRK are reminiscent of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The successful test-firings of intercontinental ballistic missiles means the DPRK's nuclear deterrents, in theory, could affect the US. Such unprecedented provocations also suggest Pyongyang's brinkmanship has tilted toward nuclear development rather than diplomatic breakthroughs.

A nuclear war between two nuclear powers has never happened, and it is not an option for either the US or the DPRK. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff described the idea of waging a war on the Korean Peninsula as "horrific", while Pyongyang too has softened its tone on firing missiles on Guam. The ongoing US-ROK drill may offer an opportunity to both sides to return to "normal" if further provocations are not made in the coming week. But the crisis will linger on without effective initiatives such as China's "dual suspension" proposal, under which the US and the ROK halt their large military drills, and the DPRK halts its missile and nuclear tests, which Washington has repeatedly ignored.

The author is vice dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University.

Global Edition
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349