The U.S., Japan and South Korea recently called a meeting to discuss how to cooperate in response to the potential threat posed by North Korean ballistic missiles, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported on Feb. 14.
Pyongyang's recent missile launch sparked wide condemnation from the international community. The Financial Times said that after two nuclear and more than 20 ballistic missile tests in 2016, North Korea has vaulted to the top of the leader-board of potential geopolitical flashpoints.
In addition to testing the reaction of U.S. President Donald Trump, the missile launch was also a response to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the U.S., South Korea's Park Geun-hye scandal, the upcoming joint military drill of the U.S. and South Korea and other political issues, Li Qunying, dean of International Politics at the China University of Political Science and Law, told People's Daily.
The situation in South Korea is also complicated, as the U.S. is deploying strategic weapons near the Korean Peninsula, and has moved its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, strategic bombers and stealth fighters to its military bases in Japan. South Korea was thrown into a panic when then-candidate Trump announced during his campaign the possibility of withdrawing U.S. troops from South Korea and Japan.
Earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis reassured the leader of South Korea that the alliance between the two nations remains strong. Both countries also agreed to the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system. During the same visit, Mattis warned Pyongyang that using nuclear weapons will incur "effective and overwhelming" counterattacks.
South Korea is currently a political vacuum, following the impeachment of President Park geun-hye. As the scandal continues to unfold, the country's political situation has become destabilized. Further complicating matters, the upcoming presidential election is dividing South Korean society along political lines, Dong Xiangrong, research fellow at the National Institute of International Strategy, told People's Daily.
There is a real possibility that the U.S. will abandon its "strategic patience" with North Korea now that Donald Trump is in office. As a result of North Korea's missile launch, Japan and South Korea will step up deployment of the THAAD missile defense system and work more closely with the U.S. Moreover, Southeast Asian countries may also take this opportunity to buy weapons. Global peace and safety remains at risk as uncertainties mount, Li said.
Relations between the U.S. and South Korea will play an important role in determining South Korean policies, regardless of who becomes president, Li added.
The U.S. gives low priority to North Korea when it comes to diplomatic issues. Instead of taking substantive measures, the former hopes the situation in North Korea will be changed by outside sanctions, Dong said, adding that South Korea should be aware of the fact that its interests do not line up with those of the U.S. South Korea should directly negotiate with North Korea rather than engaging the U.S.-ROK alliance, according to Dong.
To guarantee the safety and stability of the Korean Peninsula, and to resolve the security concerns of all parties involved, North Korea must make clear its stance on the nuclear issue and move forward with denuclearization, Dong suggested.