Cycle of tension

 28 Oct 2017 - 14:43

The Peninsula

The relative calm on the North Korean border with the South has been roiled by the visit of US Defence Secretary James Mattis to the demilitarised zone between the two nations which fought a war more than six decades ago and still remain technically in battle mode. Ahead of the upcoming visit of Donald Trump to South Korea, his defence minister is in Seoul to lay the groundwork for the vaunted trip that would come just weeks after a war of words between the US president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un who spares no effort in hitting out at Washington.

Kim’s adventurisms with missiles and nuclear weapons has sparked hectic diplomatic activity across the globe to contain a threat that largely seems real, but not probable. As a small nation with a low population, North Korea would be finding it hard to feed its population and stay abreast of the latest technological advances like the Internet, mobile phones and artificial intelligence. It might test missiles and even the hydrogen bomb, if Pyongyang is to be believed, but definitely finds itself struggling to bring about a change for the better in the lives of its citizens.

Mattis’ trip to South Korea throws into perspective the relations between Seoul and Washington that have been underpinned by the desire to contain the North amid rising tensions between neighbours across the 38th parallel. A battle of one-upmanship between the North and South is being fought on the Korean Peninsula with multilateral cross currents among China, Russia, Japan, US and South Korea.

Accompanied by South Korean Foreign Minister Song Young-moo, Mattis was told about the danger posed by North Korean artillery that can reach Seoul. Song’s concerned plea to Mattis comes in the wake of a North Korean official saying that the world should take the words of its foreign minister to test a Hydrogen bomb above the ground literally. To Song’s persuasive plea, Mattis responded with an affirmative: ‘Understood’.

What the ‘understood’ of Mattis means is a matter of conjecture, but tensions on the Korean Peninsula are certain to rise once again after a brief hiatus. Pyongyang, beaten down by debilitating sanctions and now the push by China that seems to have got fed up of its neighbour’s reckless behaviour, is still unlikely to scale down its missile programme nor its propensity to arm itself with more nuclear devices. This is what Kim wants.

It is in the interest of the Korean leader to keep his fawning population on the edge by mouthing pejoratives at Trump and other world figures; and by raising the bogey of a nuclear war Kim will always want North Koreans to keep peering at the US and the West over the border so that the putrid domestic state of the country is overlooked by a largely ignorant public.