Feature

Koreas on hair-trigger alert

South Korea’s top intelligence official said there was “a high possibility” that North Korea would soon launch a fresh attack on the South.

The U.S. and South Korea concluded four days of joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea this week, while the government of North Korea warned that “the danger of war is mounting.” Underscoring that threat, South Korea’s top intelligence official said there was “a high possibility” that North Korea would soon launch a fresh attack on the South. The U.S. and South Korea balked at China’s call for six-party talks with Pyongyang, saying that talks now would merely reward the North for last week’s artillery attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. “We want to get out of this cycle where they act up and we talk,” said an Obama administration official.

State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks suggest that China is frustrated with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s regime, which officials deride as a “spoiled child.” The cables suggested that Washington, Seoul, and Beijing were all preparing for the North’s eventual collapse, followed by the reunification of the two Koreas. But China, which is widely regarded as the only nation that can influence the North, has refrained from publicly condemning last week’s assault, which killed four and wounded 18.

It’s time to abandon the fantasy that China will “yank Pyongyang’s chain when it misbehaves,” said Peter Brookes in the New York Post. The more trouble “the nettlesome North” stirs up, the less time Washington has to “focus on China’s rise.” Still, China can’t let the standoff escalate into war, said The Detroit News in an editorial. Washington must remind Beijing that its “lucrative trade with the West” will be jeopardized if it doesn’t behave responsibly.

It’s not about us, said B.R. Myers in The New York Times. We must shake the “America-centric perception that everything Kim Jong Il does is aimed at eliciting a reaction from Washington.” That view feeds the delusion that with the right mix of carrots and sticks, “North Korea will play nice.” In fact, Kim “can never play nice.” Just as our “economy-first” government must deliver growth to remain in power, his “military-first regime” must display constant aggression or “lose all reason to exist.”

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