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[Editorial] Crucial moment

Trump signals active engagement on NK nukes

Jan. 5, 2017 - 16:35 By 이현주
US President-elect Donald Trump is giving some clues to what his North Korea policy will be like. One positive thing coming through is that unlike his predecessor, he is expected to be make resolving the North Korean nuclear issue a priority. The problem is that the clues are not yet clear enough to predict how.   

In his first comment on North Korea since his election, Trump said Monday that North Korea wouldn’t be able to develop a nuclear arsenal capable of reaching the continental US. He also criticized China for not helping resolve the problem.

“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the US. It won’t happen!” Trump said in a tweet.

Trump made the comments one day after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un indicated that the North is close to test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile. Kim previously said that the communist country had succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear devices that could be loaded on to ballistic missiles.

Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer made it clear that what the president-elect meant was that the US will not allow the North to possess any such capability.

Spicer and other aides did not give details on how the Trump administration will thwart the North’s nuclear and missile ambition. This, especially considering unpredictability surrounding the Trump presidency, should put us on alert.  

Regarding the North Korean leader, Trump once called him a lunatic and then said he was ready to meet with him over a hamburger. It is also hard to draw from his latest tweets where his mind is -- strong-arm tactic or appeasement? We should brace for both possibilities.  

One thing certain is that Trump wants to pressure China to play a bigger role in resolving the North Korean nuclear threat. Also taking to Twitter, Trump said that “China has been taking out massive amounts of money and wealth from the US in totally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea. Nice!”

It clearly shows that Trump wants to use -- along with the currency manipulation and trade issues -- the North Korean problem in pressuring the Beijing government.

That will certainly raise the already intensifying tension between the two superpowers. Already, the Chinese government has been raising its voice -- and even taking some retaliatory action against South Korea -- against the planned deployment of an advanced US missile shield system in South Korea.

High tension between the US and China will complicate the international efforts to end the North Korean threat and pose a formidable challenge to South Korea to enlist their help.

The challenge may become acute in the next few months as Trump, who is to take office in two weeks, is seen prioritizing the North Korean issue. Reuters news agency reported that Trump’s “first, and at that time only,” request for a special classified intelligence briefing was for one on North Korea and its nuclear weapons program. 

In addition, it was made public lately that a former campaign chief of Trump, Paul Manafort, visited South Korea last month to meet with Lee Byung-ho, head of the National Intelligence Service which spies on North Korea, and senior politicians.

All these indicate that North Korea could become one of Trump’s top foreign policy priorities and his administration may act promptly to stop the North Korean nuclear and missile threat.

It is good for South Korea, which is most vulnerable to the North Korean threat, to see a US administration taking it as an issue to be dealt with urgently. But it would be good only when the solution comes without hurting security and stability on the peninsula and this region.

We emphasize this because Trump’s latest tweets are already yielding speculations on possible actions he may take, including further toughening sanctions imposed on the North, military acts like shooting down North Korea-launched missiles or a pre-emptive strikes against the North.

Any of those steps will endanger stability on the peninsula. We should make sure any future action against the North should be based on close consultations between the two allies and fortifies their decadeslong security and military alliance.