Fears of a fourth round of nuclear testing and gradual increases in displays of military might by North Korea have left the Korean peninsula, and both sides’ allies, unsettled.
On July 15, North Korea published images of Kim Jong Un directing rocket launches from a testing site close to South Korea, in another round of what the global media has labeled “provocations”. These rockets were reportedly launched close to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), within sight of a South Korean tourist observatory. On top of that, North Korea reportedly fired more than 100 rockets and artillery shells into the sea earlier that week.
These incidents were apparently in response to a military drill prepared by South Korea and the US. They occurred a day after Pyongyang officially condemned this upcoming military exercise from Seoul and Washington.
Over recent months, the United States has expressed concern over rocket launches and the increase in military activity in the infamous hermit country. Several reports show that nearly 100 missile, rocket and artillery tests have been performed by North Korea this year.
The US has a large interest in the currently dormant conflict on the Korean peninsula, as it has more than 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea at the moment. In response to the ‘military provocations,’ a spokesperson for the US Department of State said that these exercises were “clearly designed to raise tensions.”
Taking stock of all nuclear tests and military demonstrations in the past two and a half years since Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, passed away, the international media and governments have deemed the new leader’s behaviour as erratic and unpredictable. These terms have become especially prominent since the emergence of reports of “purging” in the nation, following Kim Jong Un’s attempts at consolidating his power.
His behaviour is certainly quite a big change from the late Kim Jong Il’s, who tended to launch missiles or display his military dominance in other ways only on special occasions of unrest, or in response to other nation’s provocations.
Although there have been rumours of a fourth nuclear test, there has not been any evidence that North Korea has started this round. When South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Seoul this month, they did not show any urgency in taking on the North Korean nuclear issue. However, North Korea’s biggest ally and biggest enemy did confirm their dedication to opposing nuclear weapon development on the Korean peninsula, which is in the interest of both sides.
Meanwhile, the US has discouraged Tokyo from becoming too close to Pyongyang, as reported by various Japanese news sources. In the past month, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the lifting of some sanctions on North Korea, in return for investigations into previous historical disputes between the two nations – specifically, the North’s kidnapping of Japanese citizens.
These changes in the region will form the future for North Korea and its geopolitical sphere. While China is North Korea’s closest ally, its president, Xi Jinping has yet to meet with Kim Jong Un, whose continuing military testing demonstrates a determination to strengthen his military capabilities and a growing hunger for power, both nationally and on an international level.