Analyst observing the development in the Korea Peninsular may agree that the latest Military preparation, between North Korea, South Korea, and the United States, is to an extent – unstable and worrying.
In direct retaliation against the joint US-South Korea military exercise, known as Foal Eagle – North Korea on the 6th of March fired four dry ballistic missiles. Three landed into 350 km (217 miles) from coastal Japan. This is the closest landing yet on a US ally soil.
The US immediately deployed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea on the 8th of March. While on the 9th, the US up the ante by rejecting a Chinese proposal aimed at reducing tension in the Korean peninsula, saying all previous attempts to persuade Pyongyang to halt its nuclear program have failed and there is a need to find “new ways” to engage.
To be clear, this situation has occurred before. Last year in March 2016, in response to US- South Korea similar military drill, North Korea warned that it could use the hydrogen bomb to vaporize Manhattan. The situation soon after cooled down.
However, what is worrying now is the change in geopolitical context comparatively to what we had from 2016.
As one would predict, these involved the newly minted US President Donald Trump who temperament is hard to pin down on and the increasingly unpredictable leadership style of Kim Jong Un’s.
Donald Trump has exhibited tendencies to be literal in his foreign policy execution. While young Kim has shown to be increasingly anxious in consolidating his power in North Korea and broader East Asia. The brazen daylight killing of his stepbrother in one of South East Asia biggest airport exhibits this point precisely.
Given the above, now the valid question is – how much restraint both leaders may have given the enormous complexity that is surrounding them.China may have sensed this when it called on North Korea to suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for the US and South Korea halting annual military exercises, to prevent what it called a “head-on collision.”
And what this has to do with Malaysia?
I would not want to speculate a war is looming, hence be described of doing such if the situation turn otherwise, – but for practical reasons, Malaysia needs to study these political trends diligently when it comes to negotiating the release of our Embassy staff. Even with skirmishes that could occur in the region, the nine remaining life in Pyongyang will be in quandary.
Malaysia must equally expedite its back-door diplomacy with North Korea through China. As a member of Non-Align Movement, Malaysia must not be shown to side any countries pertinently from the Western Hemisphere on the issue. I believe as we are speaking, our Prime Minister has begun to move towards that direction.
There is also a need to seek a quid-pro-quo solution even though a crime has been done in KLIA 2. Malaysian law must be applied without compromise. However, the process itself must not be projected in a way that suggests Malaysia is punishing and shaming the state of North Korea as the accomplice.
Instead, it must be on the singular nature of the crime that has been conducted. From a broader perspective, this may help smoothen our diplomatic process of saving our people in Pyongyang.
The above article has appeared earlier in New Straits Times 13 March 2017 with a different title. The content however, remains the same.