Talks, not threats, the only way to solve the North Korean problem
War on the peninsula would be a disaster for all concerned, and the US would do well to consider the option of negotiations
No one in Asia wants another war on the Korean peninsula. The geopolitical shifts that would result aside, the cost in lives, development and economic growth would be too high. But Donald Trump does not seem to be aware of the sentiment, his orders and rhetoric and that of senior officials pointing towards a military solution to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. President Xi Jinping has rightly told his American counterpart of the concern and urged a peaceful resolution through negotiations.
Amid rising tensions, a US navy strike group, including the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, two missile destroyers and a missile cruiser, have been redeployed to the Korean peninsula and there are reports Japanese ships may join. The North denounced the decision, warning it was ready for war, and Xi has urged calm. There are fears the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, will use anniversaries today of the birthday of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and on April 25 of the establishment of the army, for more weapons tests. The carrier group order follows US missile strikes on a Syrian air base, sparking concerns that a similar strategy will be used against Kim’s regime.
Xi is under pressure from Trump to exert greater force on the North, an ally of China. The issue was discussed during last week’s two-day meeting of the leaders in Florida and in a phone conversation this week initiated by Trump. But Beijing has done all it is willing to, the latest measure being to cut off North Korean coal imports; to do more would risk a collapse of the regime that would negatively impact China and its interests.
But Trump has seemingly gone out of his way to anger the North. He has said the US may take unilateral action against Kim and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, warned during a visit to South Korea last month that Washington had lost “strategic patience” and would embark on war if necessary. An armed conflict is a worrying prospect; China and Japan, the world’s second- and third-largest economies, would likely be dragged into any war, resulting in trillions of dollars of lost trade, and if US estimates are to be believed, the lives of one million Koreans and 250,000 Americans could be lost. The possibility that the North would use nuclear weapons against its rivals South Korea, Japan and the US cannot be ruled out.
A lesson should have been learned from the three-year Korean war that killed about three million people, the majority civilians. It ended in 1953 not with a peace treaty, but an armistice. Negotiations, a course of action not yet voiced by Trump, are the only responsible way to ease tensions and forge a lasting deal to bring peace and stability to the region.