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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2648

Trump Vs Kim: a duel without a winner

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London...

Having been insulted by President Trump at the UN with a new nickname, Rocket Man, North Korean supremo, Kim Jong-un, has started showing to the world how he is going to live up to his new classification – firing on all cylinders.

Mr Kim described Mr Trump less than flattering terms on Friday, against which the latter hit back in kind with similar vitriolic connotations.

On Tuesday, President Trump once again displayed something that he is really good at – breaking with the tradition in order to make his point without fearing the backlash, regardless of the audience that he faced with; his maiden speech on Tuesday, at the UN in New York that he proudly calls his home city, was no different.

During the speech, President Trump singled out three countries in order to vent his fury. While referring to the Kim Jong-un, Mr Trump said in no uncertain terms that he would destroy North Korea if they dared attack the US. Since Mr Trump mentioned how he bolstered the US nuclear arsenal after coming to power, it is clear he meant nuclear annihilation of North Korea in the event of a military conflict being flared up.

The North Korean Ambassador, who initially listened to the speech, then walked out of the conference before the speech being finished; Mr Trump continued as if nothing that really mattered happened. The response to the speech, however, came in many different forms, days later from North Korea: “Action is the best option in treating the dotard who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wants to say,” said North Korea in concluding a strongly-worded insult-laden statement.

The security analysts wasted no time in picking up the word, action, that Mr Kim referred to. Is it another nuclear test, a provocative missile launch over Japan or testing a nuclear device in the Pacific Ocean, which almost has the potential to trigger off something that the world has never seen before?

The latest rounds of sanctions imposed by the UN on North Korea may have already started making an impact on the economy at many different levels, as China and Russia came on board as well – a bit reluctantly, though.

In this context, Mr Kim’s outburst could not just stem from the humiliation that he suffered at the UN by President Trump. China’s decision to suspend financial transactions, limit oil exports and restrict textile imports will have a detrimental effect on North Korea. President Trump’s threat against the companies that do business with North Korea is adding another dimension to the evolving global crisis.

Japan, militarily handicapped by post-war constitution, seems to be more vulnerable to North Korea’s mischief-making than South Korea, despite its close proximity. In response, Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, has been engaged in visiting unusually high number of foreign countries to galvanize the support for imposing more and more sanctions against North Korea in the hope of breaking the vicious cycle.

Japan anxiety, perhaps, may be stanching from its anxiety over the feasibility of US help, in the event of it being attacked, despite the latter’s commitment to do so. On the other hand, with a cost-conscious businessman at the helm in the US, Japan may be aware of the finance that the US would demand in return for safeguarding the country.

As for the political support back at home, President Trump’s position has not improved at all; on the contrary, even things that come from his own Republican camp, appear to be derailing his agenda rather than supporting it.

President Trump’s uneasy position in his own party is re-vitalising the old maxim: When Democrats have the majority, they rule; when Republicans have it, they hold office! So, before declaring or waging a war, Mr Trump needs to get his political camp in order, while assuring allies that the US is still a reliable partner in defence.

In this context, the apathy of European allies – and even NATO members – to come on board in ganging up against North Korea is understandable. If Mr Trump really wants to tackle the North Korean problem, he cannot afford to make more enemies like Iran or Venezuela; nor can he antagonize countries like Russia or China by shifting his positions on related, existing issues.

Stakes are high for Mr Kim too: up until now, none of the leaders of nuclear armed nations has boasted about attacking its foes with dreadful weapons. Instead, they held the position of not being the first to attack, which implied the deterrence rather than military dominance.

Launching a nuclear attack and contemplating a survival strategy simultaneously is like a kid naming a library as the tallest building in the world because it has most stories, in the presence of a finger-wagging, old-fashioned teacher. Whoever launches a nuclear attack in offensive mode is simply writing his own death sentence in the long run.

All in all, the rhetoric between the US and North Korea will go on for some time with increased intensity, until sanity breaks out at some point. In the meantime, both Japan and South Korea will be compelled to live in constant anxiety for years to come.

- Asian Tribune -

Trump Vs Kim: a duel without a winner
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