The hotline to North Korea has gone cold. They have stopped answering on this last channel of communication. The North has said that with war possible at any minute: why bother.
On Tuesday, Pyongyang released photos of Communist leader Kim Jong-un surveying military preparations at an unspecified location.
National television broadcast a message aimed at the UN Security Council warning that the North is ready to launch a nuclear war, blaming provocation on the United States and what it called its South Korean puppets.
Pyongyang has said its military is in combat posture.
Washington has stated that North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes are a “threat to US and international peace and security”.
Ordinary North Koreans often follow a familiar line. One resident of Pyongyang said: “How dare the Yankee wolves insult our supreme leadership? The army and people are fully ready! Once revered Supreme Commander Kim Jong-un gives the order, we will turn as one to destroy the US strongholds, and wipe those Yankees off the face of the earth!”
The Pentagon says North Korea’s missile capability is classified information, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff vice-chairman this month said one type probably could reach the United States. Allies South Korea and Japan are clearly accessible.
Patrick Ventrell of the State Department reiterated its position: “The US is fully capable of defending itself and our allies against a DPRK (North Korean) attack, and we are firmly committed to the defence of the Republic of Korea (south) and Japan.”
Meanwhile, on Tuesday South Koreans commemorated the third anniversary of the sinking of one of their warships in which 46 sailors were killed – caused by a torpedo fired by the North, says Seoul, although Pyongyang has always denied that.
President Park Geun-hye made an appeal for peace. She said: “North Korea should drop its nuclear weapons, missiles, provocations and threats, and become a responsible member of international society. This is the only way the North can survive.”
The North’s third nuclear test last month triggered new United Nations sanctions against the famine-prone nation of 25 million people, also plunging reprisal rhetoric to new depths.
We asked Juliette Morillot, a journalist with the monthly magazine Revue, whose newest issue is on a nuclear Iran and North Korea, about this. She has lived in Korea and knows a lot about the region.
Sophie Desjardin, euronews: “We’re used to hearing North Korea make threats, especially after joint military exercises held by the United States and South Korea. But direct threats aimed at the American enemy, that’s fairly new, isn’t it?”
Juliette Morillot: “Yes, it is new. We’ve seen the North’s alternating provocation phases and appeasement phases for years. It will generally accept China’s initiative to return to the six-way negotiating table for denuclearising the peninsula. But here we can really say it has ratcheted up the tension.
“Partly it’s because there’s a new leader, and all the leaders in the region are new. There’s a new team in China, a new president in South Korea, and a new prime minister in Japan. So, it’s important for Kim Jong-un to make an impression. But tension has also moved up a notch because he knows how to use the media very well, and, as I say, needs to show who’s boss. He really has gone out on a limb. We’ll see if we can avoid a collision.”
euronews: “North Korea is totally isolated internationally. Even its last remaining economic ally China has had something to say. What is the Kim Jong-un regime looking to gain?”
Morillot: “This extremely turbulent ally of China’s is actually causing it extreme embarrassment, because China wants to align with the international community but will not drop North Korea as its historic ally. Then also, North Korea won’t let China tell it what to do in any way. I think China can intervene, and probably moderate Kim’s tantrums, but it will not be able to give Pyongyang orders.”
euronews: “But what use is all this noise to Kim?”
Morillot: “There’s a double goal. Part of it is meant for North Korea, for internal consumption. What I mean is Kim Jong-il died a year ago, and so the new young leader Kim Jong-un has to establish his power and unite his people behind a common project, in this case the fight against American imperialism. Where the world is concerned, Kim is cleverly using the regional status quo. He wants a bilateral dialogue with the United States.
“When I talk about the status quo, it’s really to say that no one is really interested in the two Koreas reunifying. The South has Germany as an example, and doesn’t want its standard of living to fall. China doesn’t want a reunited Korea, a nuclear powered democracy on its doorstep. Japan doesn’t want an anti-Japanese reunited Korea either. As for the US, let’s not forget that with China’s rise in military strength, it doesn’t want to lose its outposts, which are targeted today, I mean its bases in Okinawa, Guam and also South Korea. So, Kim Jong-un is using all these elements to play the status quo in a sort of international game of fools.”