Asia on ‘High Alert’ as Another North Korean Holiday Approaches

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives for an opening ceremony of a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

The world marked the passage of North Korea’s “Day of the Sun,” commemorating the 105th anniversary of national founder Kim Il-sung’s birth, without serious incident last weekend.

There had been fears Pyongyang would mark the event with provocative missile tests, nuclear detonations, or even aggressive military action.

However, another North Korean holiday is right around the corner, prompting South Korean forces to remain on heightened alert. More unusually and ominously, China has also raised its alert level and not just with ground forces that might be called upon to handle a flood of refugees from North Korea.

The Chinese are reportedly preparing bombers capable of carrying cruise missiles, which naturally raises questions about whom they might be thinking about targeting with those missiles.

This coming Tuesday will bring the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People’s Army, which is a significant date on the North Korean calendar. Reuters reports that U.S. and South Korean officials still believe North Korea could be preparing another illegal nuclear test, possibly timed to coincide with the anniversary.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry announced there would be a meeting between envoys from their country, Japan, and the United States on Tuesday to “discuss plans to rein in North Korea’s additional high-strength provocations, to maximize pressure on the North, and to ensure China’s constructive role in resolving the North Korea nuclear issue.”

It is not clear what China’s role in the crisis will be, although President Trump appears confident it will indeed be constructive. A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry likewise expressed “gratitude” for the Trump administration’s “fuller and more correct understanding of China’s policy and position.” Reuters quotes some optimistic language from China’s state-controlled media about the possibility of convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

The Straits Times quotes analysts who believe the clock has simply run out on China’s indulgence of the North Korean regime because the North Koreans are too close to deploying nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. Also, China is displeased with the deployment of advanced American missile and radar systems to counter the North Korean threat.

“China has no room to be ambiguous. It needs to express its stand clearly, that it opposes the North’s possession of nuclear weapons and wants it to give them up,” said Professor Wang Xiangsui of Beihang University.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the reports of heightened readiness for its air force, while the Ministry of Defense said those reports were untrue, insisting Chinese forces near the North Korean border are “maintaining a normal level of combat readiness and training.”

China’s Defense Ministry also denied South Korean media reports that up to 150,000 Chinese troops have assembled on the North Korean border to control a potential surge of North Korean refugees. Similar claims have been made in regional media about Russia moving troops to its North Korean border, accompanied by video footage of Russian forces on the move. The Russian government described these troop movements as “scheduled maneuvers of combat readiness.”

Australia’s speculates that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un might be eager to stage a more successful missile launch or nuclear detonation after the “fizzer” of a launch last weekend. Also, it is noted that the upcoming army commemoration is “explicitly a military observation,” so it might be viewed as a more appropriate date for a big weapons test.

The United States is planning a few weapons tests of its own in the near future, involving missiles that could be used to knock down North Korean ICBMs. The Pentagon is said to be unsatisfied with the performance of current systems.

North Korea’s belligerent rhetoric continues unabated. “Now that we possess mighty nuclear power to protect ourselves from U.S. nuclear threat, we will respond without the slightest hesitation to full-out war with full-out war and to nuclear war with our style of nuclear strike, and we will emerge victor in the final battle with the United States,” read the latest statement from the North Korean Foreign Ministry.


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