North Korea playing with fireChinese Minister of National Defense Liang Guanglie said at the Shangri-La Dialogue that China has been persuading North Korea not to rashly engage in military adventures. At the annual security conference in Singapore, the minister stressed that regional stability is crucial for China’s sustained development. His remarks attract our attention as they came directly from a military leader of China, which has traditionally acted as Pyongyang’s political and military guardian.
His statement came amid another round of threats by the North to attack the South. North Korea has been incrementally raising its bellicosity against its southern counterpart by threatening to engage in “all-out military retaliations” after it was disclosed that our army reserves have been using portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for target practice.
Through such threats, the North Korean regime encourages its people to denounce their southern brethren. Our military authorities have not yet picked up signs of the North preparing an imminent military assault, but security experts believe there is a growing possibility that it will resort to violence soon.
North Korea’s policies toward the South have been fluctuating between military attacks and dialogue to shake the Lee Myung-bak administration out of its hard-line position toward the North. However, the North failed to achieve that goal and our government’s position has been consistent.
The problem is that North Korea has been gradually raising its level of belligerence: from its killing of a South Korean tourist at the Mount Kumgang Resort in 2008 to the sinking of our Cheonan warship and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last year. As Pyongyang ratchets up the level of attacks, we have to be prepared for a stronger one next time.
North Korea also seems to be taking into account such events as presidential elections here and in the U.S. next year to make the North Korea issue a major variable. So the North will likely try to trigger division in both countries through an additional nuclear test or by seizing some of the five islands near the maritime border.
Liang’s statement deserves attention in the sense that China is the North’s close ally and it can restrain its aggression. South Korea and the U.S. also must prepare for the North’s next attack, including intelligence gathering and carrying out special joint drills. The allies should try to stop the North from playing with fire.