The recent attack by North Korea on a South Korean island rattled financial markets and leaders around the world. What does the attack signal, can North Korea be contained, and what are the implications?
North Korea’s action seems to be a sign that the transition from President Kim to his son will not represent any change in external policy but rather that North Korea will continue to attempt build on its nuclear status and ability to assert its power. It also may be another effort to divert the population’s attention from an economy that is reportedly on the verge of collapse and only propped up by China’s aid.
The United States immediately appealed to China to exercise its influence on its ally, North Korea. America’s options are limited, with economic sanctions having achieved little success. While China pleaded for a cooling of tensions, it was outspoken in its criticism of the United States’ decision to proceed with previously scheduled military exercises with South Korea. The Chinese refusal to obey America’s exhortations and directives is not surprising. China is emerging as a world economic and political power in its own right. The Chinese would act more forcefully should North Korea threaten more instability in the region, but that point apparently does not appear imminent.
What is the outlook? Look for more volatility and regional conflicts in Asia, suggesting that the United States will have to focus on both the Middle East and Asia for some time to come. Meanwhile, China and the United States are emerging as superpowers in a delicate strategic Asian balance of power, while the smaller countries watch anxiously.