The Korean Peninsula situation is unlikely to become intense, said Chinese analysts, despite military exercises between the US and South Korea, North Korea’s launch of a “new tactical guided weapon”, and a massive military parade next week.
The US-South Korea drills this time have no “field manoeuvers,” according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), which said in a statement that South Korea-US computer-simulated exercises will run for nine days starting Monday in comprehensive consideration of the combined defence readiness.
“This training is a defensive command post training using computer simulation, and there is no real military manoeuvre training,” Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
North Korea must return to a “diplomatic path”, the top US envoy for the country said, following Pyongyang’s blitz of missile launches and growing signs it is resuming nuclear testing. US Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim arrived in Seoul for a five-day visit on April 18 and met his South Korean counterpart Noh Kyu-duk, reported AFP.
After talks, the two envoys jointly condemned “recent escalatory actions” by Pyongyang, including what they said were “at least three” launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). “We agreed on the need for a strong response to the destabilising behaviour we have been from the DPRK,” Kim told reporters, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name.
“We also discussed how to respond to future DPRK actions, including a possible nuclear test,” he added.
Kim reiterated that the United States has offered to meet Pyongyang “anywhere without any preconditions”, saying that Washington has not “closed the door on diplomacy”. “I once again call on Pyongyang to pursue a diplomatic path with us,” Kim said. “I want to make clear that we have no hostile intent towards the DPRK.”
Pyongyang has so far rebuffed offers of talks, blaming Washington’s hostile policies.
Kim’s visit comes as Seoul and Washington kicked off a nine-day annual joint military drill. Such exercises have always infuriated Pyongyang, which calls them a rehearsal for war.
The allies regularly stage military exercises, but they have been scaled back in recent years as outgoing President Moon Jae-in made efforts to facilitate nuclear talks with North Korea.
Lü Chao, an expert on Korean Peninsula issues at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that the computer-simulated exercises are much less provocative than the drills participated by US aircraft carriers, and it won’t cause a tough retaliation from Pyongyang, since the weapon launched by North Korea this week was neither a ballistic missile nor a nuclear test. “At least at this stage, both sides are just doing what they must to show political attitudes, with no intention of causing new tensions.”
North Korean official media KCNA reported that the weapon launched has “great significance in drastically improving the firepower of the frontline long-range artillery units and enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes of the DPRK and diversification of their firepower missions.”
Military analysts said the test is tactical but also related to nuclear weapons as it can carry tactical nuclear warheads. Pyongyang’s action is a crucial sign that North Korea could be capable of using nukes for tactical purposes in conventional wars. Although Seoul didn’t respond tough at once, it will engage with the US on how to deal with this new development.
Lü said some observers believe the US is now prioritising the Russia-Ukraine crisis and has no time to handle the Peninsula issue. But Kim Sung’s visit shows that Washington still cares about the issue. “Yoon was being hostile toward the North, so the US also needs to figure out how the new South Korean government would likely deal with the North.”
As long as the US and South Korea don’t raise military provocations, Pyongyang would not actively launch actions to increase tensions, Lü said, noting that “if Pyongyang is provoked, the retaliations would include nuclear tests or more direct military actions.”
The dialogue between North Korea and the US has reached an impasse as the US refused to reduce sanctions unless North Korea gives up all nukes first. Lü said “Pyongyang would not make any further compromise, and if the Biden administration wants to break the deadlock and to have meaningful diplomatic legacy, it’s time for the US to consider adjusting its policy.”
South Korean media KBS reported that North Korea is moving forward with preparations for a military parade next week to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army.
Seoul projects that at the parade, Pyongyang could unveil an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), and short- and mid-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying small nuclear warheads, KBS reported.
Experts said that North Korea’s nuclear arms are getting increasingly mature in recent years, and the later Washington restarts engagement with Pyongyang to ease sanctions, the less the US could get from the negotiations on denuclearization.
North Korea has carried out more than a dozen weapons tests so far this year, the latest one over the weekend — a short-range test that state media claimed would enhance the “efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes”.
North Korea had paused long-range and nuclear tests while leader Kim Jong Un met then-US president Donald Trump for a bout of doomed diplomacy, which collapsed in 2019. Talks have since stalled. But last month Pyongyang test-fired an ICBM at full range for the first time since 2017.
Recent signs of new activity at North Korea’s key nuclear testing site have also raised concerns over the possible resumption of nuclear testing.
With input from Global Times and AFP