North and South Korea Tensions Rise As US Points The Finger

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Context

400_North_Korea_MapThe tension between North and South Korea has reached unprecedented levels as Seoul points the finger at Pyongyang for the sinking of the warship Cheonan on March 26. The US is backing Seoul, while Pyongyang is pointing the finger at the US; and China is urging restraint on all sides.

In this Analysis of Perception and Perspective PoliTact examines the evolving relations of Russia, China and US in the Asia Pacific and its impact on Middle East and AfPak region.

Analysis

Investigators from the US, Australia, Sweden and Britain have been working in cooperation with South Korean investigators to comb over the wreckage of the warship Cheonan, which sank mysteriously in the Yellow Sea of March 26. According to the investigation’s report, released on the 18 of May, a North Korean torpedo was responsible for the explosion which tore the ship’s hull in two, killing 46 sailors. According to North Korea, this is a fabrication, and it was a US manufactured sea mine that sunk the ship.

Tensions are at breaking point, and it’s not just between the North and South.

Pyongyang has come out in strong opposition to the indictment, blaming the US for igniting tensions in the region, and fueling the fires of war and accusation in Seoul. North Korea’s official news agency, the KNCA claims that the US is being reckless to so blatantly point the finger at Pyongyang, and that the bravado from the ‘puppet government’ in the South is solely caused by the egging on of its ‘master’ the US-not unfamiliar rhetoric from the North, but they are right in noticing the unusually ‘amped up’ rhetoric coming from the South.

In the previous decade, there was a thawing of the North-South relations, with increased trade, aid and communication, but since taking office in 2008, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has taken a tougher stance against the North, especially since the nuclear issue boiled over. Since the investigation report was released, Lee Myung-bak has implemented a punitive package against the North, including slashing trade ties, barring the North’s ships and resuming anti-north propaganda-all of which the US fully backs and calls “absolutely appropriate.”

Whether or not North Korea did torpedo the Cheonan, the situation at present is dividing the region, and rapidly. The US makes no bones about its full support of South Korea, and other US-backed players in the region, such as Japan, have also thrown their cards in with South Korea. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said in an announcement while in Seoul that “this was an unacceptable provocation by North Korea, and the international community has a responsibility and a duty to respond.” South Korea is not ruling out a war on this issue, so the stakes are high all round.

China is walking a fine line on all sides, as one of the regional heavyweights who chooses to have dealings with the North. It is urging restraint from all parties, lest the region descend rapidly into all-out war. Meanwhile Chinese representatives are staying mum on its ally in the North while undertaking talks with Japan and South Korea about deepening security and economic ties in Seoul.

South Korea has asked China to stand behind the findings of the investigation team, and not veto the proposed UN Security Council resolution condemning the North. China has stated that it will not protect anyone found guilty of the attack, but it was still mulling over the evidence.

North Korea is warning the UN that the Security Council resolution is nothing more than another ‘weapons of mass destruction’ case, a front for “occupy[ing] the Korean Peninsula just as it did Iraq with sheer lies,” according to a statement by KNCA. The KNCA further claims that the US is purposefully backing the South in order to deepen its hold over the South and Japan, as well as putting China in an ‘awkward position’ in the meanwhile.

If there weren’t enough players in the game already, Russia is stating that it may conduct an independent investigation into the alleged torpedoing, and given that Russia also have veto power at the UN Security Council, the South may well be worried if there is indeed any misleading accusations being published about the North. Russia and China are both key players in the stalled six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue. These talks are likely to be further derailed, given that the other three members of the ‘six’ are South Korea, Japan and the US.

The fault lines in US-Russia-China relations are being additionally tested by the situation in the two Koreas, as they are on the Iran nuclear issue, as previously discussed by PoliTact. China and Russia on both fronts are being put in ‘awkward positions’ by the US.

With both China and Russia deepening ties with neighbors and states further afield in the Middle East and AfPak region, the US may be blundering into a situation where it is no longer perceived as a bastion of fair mindedness and justice-in fact, despite the eloquent prose coming from the White house, many people who are subject to the US’s actions-in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and most of the Muslim world, see the US as decidedly the opposite. World opinion of the US aside, alienating both Russia and China on two separate fronts can only bode ill for relations in the region.

If the US keeps ‘picking sides’ while other powers like Russia and China have been trying desperately not to have to, there may come a crisis point where either Russia or China are forced to come out and also ‘pick a side,’ and if that side happens to be on the opposite to the US? The Asia Pacific may well become a concert of war once again.
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