This Is No Time to Toy with the Korea-U.S. Alliance

      March 20, 2017 12:54

      North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has presided over the thrust test of a new rocket engine and declared that "the whole world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries." Garbled talk about "satellites" that accompanied the event suggests it was an engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

      Experts believe North Korea's missile technology has now reached the same level as the Soviet Union just before its implosion, or will soon reach that stage.

      Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during his visit to Asia that the policy of "strategic patience" with North Korea has failed and warned, "All options are on the table. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, then [the military] option's on the table."

      Tillerson sat down for talks with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday but their stances remained miles apart. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted before the talks in Beijing that North Korea has been "behaving very badly" and seemed to blame China for sitting idly by. Speaking to reporters in South Korea, Tillerson urged China to stop supporting the North, but the Chinese foreign minister blamed the North Korean nuclear impasse on the U.S.

      The leaders of the U.S. and China will hold a summit around April 10, but a breakthrough is unlikely. Of course that is exactly what North Korea wants. Pyongyang may well launch another provocation around that time which could push the U.S. to the limits of its already short fuse and bring tensions on the Korean Peninsula to boiling point.

      In an interview on Saturday, Tillerson said Washington's goal is the get rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons, but he added that "circumstances could evolve to the point that for mutual deterrence reasons, we might have to consider" South Korea and Japan also arming themselves with nuclear weapons. That was a clear warning to China and suggests that the regional situation is fast headed for a historic turning point.

      Tillerson called Japan America's "most important ally" but South Korea merely as "an important partner." There is no need to fixate on every word he says, but past U.S. secretaries of state have not referred to South Korea that way.

      What is more worrisome is that the opposition here, which is leading in presidential polls, appears to be siding with China instead of the U.S. With a president as volatile and inexperienced as Trump, that is a dangerous path to tread if the alliance with Washington is to survive. This is no time to try and score political points off national security.

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