Over the past few months, the world has witnessed a verbal sparring match between the world’s most powerful man and a ruthless dictator who refuses to give ground. While entertaining for some, the unwinding saga of US-North Korea relations has most spectators holding their breath, fearing a potential nuclear annihilation. Granted, the likelihood of a nuclear war is slim, but the residents of Japan and South Korea still have a valid reason to fear, knowing that their homes and families will be on the front lines at the opening moments of conflict. Even if North Korea resorts to using non-nuclear military resources during an attack, the military arsenal that it has amassed in these past decades has the potential to inflict serious harm to Japan and South Korea.
Japan’s response to the growing boldness of North Korea’s demonstrations of military might indicate a strong will to counter and match any future antagonism. This deterimance is demonstrated by their cooperation with the U.S Government to combat the North Korean regime. The same however, cannot be said for South Korea, as its government may have different plans to resolve this issue.
The current President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in (whose administration replaced that of the impeached Park Geun-hye) is known in Korea for his liberal approach to economic and foreign policies. With his affiliations rooted in the long standing semi-communist Democratic Party of Korea, Moon’s softer diplomatic approaches against North Korea prove to be troublesome for those who believe in more extreme courses of action, especially retaliation-minded officials within the United States Government. South Korea’s opposition to the aggressive measures put the nation in a collision course with the United States, its most important strategic and economic ally.
To make the situation even more complex, China, another key global partner of South Korea, has repeatedly defended the Kim regime, signalling their intention to continue supporting the North. Whether the South continues its diplomatic approaches or changes their efforts to support the US, Korea faces serious diplomatic and economic implications.
If Seoul continues to back diplomatic talks with North Korea, it risks alienating its biggest military supporter and key economic ally, which can lead to unpleasant circumstances. The Moon administration’s conscious decision to continue ignoring requests made by Trump’s team can accelerate collapse of already strained relations between the White House and Seoul, and without the backing of United States, North Korea’s aggression is projected to grow.
On the contrary, if Moon begins to back the United States in its more aggressive approach to pressure North Korea, he leaves himself at odds with his voter base; who desperately crave a more careful South Korean approach towards their neighbour in the North, in addition to possibly alienating China, another key economic ally of the South and the most powerful country in the region. In the past, China has undertaken active initiatives to ensure the survival of North Korea, striking down potentially fatal sanctions on the UN floor and becoming Kim regime’s most crucial financial aid. Any moves made on the Seoul’s part to seriously cripple North Korea can be met with heavy consequences, as Xi Jinping shows little willingness to back down.