How they see us: The dangers of taunting North Korea
U.S. President Donald Trump’s “verbal rampage” at the United Nations General Assembly last week has put all of South Korea at grave risk, said The Hankyoreh (South Korea) in an editorial. Making no attempt at diplomacy and offering no strategy to contain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, Trump simply lashed out. He mockingly referred to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” and threatened to “totally destroy” his nation of 25 million people if the U.S. had to defend itself or its allies. Far from pushing Pyongyang to negotiate over its nuclear program, the outburst ended up “steeling its determination not to abandon it.” Kim himself addressed the world for the first time, saying in a statement that Trump’s words had convinced him his path was right, and adding, “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.” It’s frightening to see this “simian-level feces flinging on the international stage,” said Yonden Lhatoo in the South China Morning Post (China). What’s worse, Kim’s diatribe “came across as more statesmanlike than Trump’s.”
Both sides are clearly ramping up for war, said the Chosun Ilbo (South Korea). U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis says the Pentagon has military options—presumably surgical strikes on North Korean military targets—that he claims won’t put Seoul at risk. But how can we believe that? The top U.S. official in charge of evacuating Americans in the event of war just visited South Korea, which “raises serious concerns” for our citizens. There’s no such thing as a consequence-free U.S. attack on North Korea, said Alexander Sharkovsky in Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Russia). Kim might not retaliate with nukes, but he could fire thousands of conventional missiles and artillery rounds at South Korea’s nuclear power plants. That would “create a danger of radioactive contamination for the entire region”—including Russia, which shares a small border with North Korea. A strike on North Korea, therefore, is also “a military attack against Russia and China.”
Yet Trump’s only idea for a non-military solution is to strong-arm China, said Zhao Minghao in the Global Times (China). His new, unilateral U.S. sanctions—under which any institution that does business with Pyongyang will lose access to the U.S. financial system—are clearly aimed at forcing China to choose between its support of Pyongyang or its trade with the U.S. That is “an unfriendly act” that will backfire. The Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, after all, own $144 billion worth of assets in the U.S.
Sanctions are our best hope, said the JoongAng Daily (South Korea). Only “more pressure on China and Russia” can force those two nations, which together prop up Kim’s regime, to “abandon their uncooperative attitudes.” But we’re running out of time. North Korea insists Trump’s threats amount to a declaration of war, and the Pentagon has said it is “ready to fight tonight.” In this “game of chicken” between the U.S. and the North, the loser will be South Korea.