Opinion / Web Comments

Will brinkmanship work this time?

By Sun Lin (Chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2013-04-08 13:19

We are familiar with North Korea’s historical patterns of brinkmanship-yielding benefits, such as economic assistance, and a more relaxed international environment by carrying out provocations to squeeze other countries into making concessions.

However, careful calculations should be included while employing such tactics, otherwise a full-scale confrontation might take place which North Korea could hardly afford. Kim Jong Il was a master in escalating tensions step by step followed by a diplomatic "charm offensive" designed to ease the crisis and reap the diplomatic returns.

Is North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong un playing the same game this year? For now, Mr. Kim has escalated his threats towards South Korea and the United States to unprecedented levels , but we don’t see any flexibility from him.

Multiple factors are contributing to North Korea’s tough stance. The prime reason is that the United States is still taking a hostile attitude towards North Korea, as it enforces stiffer financial sanctions on that country following its satellite and nuclear tests, and persists in not restarting bilateral talks unless North Korea commit to denuclearization and launching military drills with South Korea to show its resolve to deter North Korea. It’s almost impossible for North Korea to step back at this time as the new leader is still striving to consolidate political power and shore up loyalty domestically.

In the long term, isolating itself from the rest world will not work, while coercing other countries may backfire. The simmering tension has given the Obama administration a perfect excuse to bolster its military presence in East Asia, and deploy an anti-missile defense system to contain China.

The actions that North Korea has taken are antithetical to China’s security and geopolitical interests, endangering the economic development and opening-up policies of Northeast China.

The new South Korea government has promised to provide humanitarian aid without the condition of denuclearization. China is willing to offer support if North Korea chooses to take economic reform.

It’s up to North Korea to decide which path to take.

The opinions expressed here do not represent the views of the China Daily website.

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