Yet, already, the basic components for a future arsenal of long-range, nuclear tipped missiles already are in place, said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on North Korean weapons systems. The move was criticized by Pyongyang, as it considers the exercises as a rehearsal for an invasion. China, which provides North Korea with most of its food and fuel, doesn’t want a unified Korea allied with the US on its doorstep. Complicating the mission are Chinese concerns about how the US has responded so far. The Malaysian police concluded that several North Korean men, including a Kuala Lumpur-based diplomat, were behind the killing.
But he noted that South Korea still had leverage.
The North sees the massive war games as a military provocation and, last Monday, an angry Pyongyang test-fired four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan in answer.
China’s economic retaliation against South Korea over the deployment of a THAAD missile defense system continues to grow with no sign of abatement, as reports emerge of the Chinese government targeting more South Korean enterprises including private business establishments.
An unnamed South Korean military official told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that the drone would enhance the allies’ abilities to strike ground targets in North Korea.
Other factors complicating the secretary of state’s discussions in Seoul and Beijing are the complex political situation in South Korea, which has just impeached its president, and China’s resentment about the deployment in South Korea of a controversial US defensive missile system. In the July 2016 announcement of the THAAD deployment, General Vincent Brooks, Commander of U.S. Forces Korea, specified that the system was needed to protect South Korea from North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Kim In Ryong, ambassador of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, attends a press conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York, March 13, 2017.
As far as Chinese leaders are concerned, the deployment of major American military hardware so close to China is further proof that the United States is hell-bent on encircling and containing the country’s rise.
While North Korea has slammed the joint drills as a rehearsal for invasion and threatened to take military action, South Korea and the United States maintain the exercises are defensive in nature.
Four years ago the USA launched cyber attacks on the DPRK, to retard its missile programme. Its political elites are deeply split over North Korea, which Tillers is expected to visit on Friday. As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently put it, the USA and North Korea are like “two accelerating trains coming toward each other, with neither side willing to give way”. Why doesn’t Beijing think that Korean companies with so many factories in China can also stay off from their Chinese businesses if the situation gets even worse?
Seoul has maintained the policy of a “nuclear-free Korean Peninsula” since 1991, when then-President Roh Tae-woo declared that South Korea would not “manufacture, possess, store, deploy, or use nuclear weapons”.
The fact that China is also South Korea’s biggest trade partner does give Beijing leverage, as does the ignominious dismissal of President Park Geun-hye, a Thaad supporter.
However, there is also the potential that Donald Trump may decide to use the option of limited military action by bombing North Korea’s missile test sites.
The Trump administration is actively exploring ways to foster Israeli-Arab cooperation against Iran, which it hopes will blossom into greater normalization of ties. His latest book is Modi Doctrine: The Foreign Policy Of India’s Prime Minister.
Before the new Trump administration develops a sure footing regarding some hot-button global affairs issues, Kim may not risk escalating his ballistic missile tests. Instead, they are viewed as evidence of a rapidly growing threat – and one that increasingly defies solution.