There are abundant signs that indicate tension over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs will be further heightened.
First, North Korea is determined to improve its capabilities for developing a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the US mainland.
US and South Korean officials, citing intelligence reports, said North Korea has finished preparing for another nuclear test and it may come soon.
The North has already ratcheted up tension by continuing to test-fire missiles this year. It launched four ballistic missiles simultaneously – the first of their kind – earlier this month and announced one week ago that it successfully tested a new high-thrust rocket engine for ICBM.
All these latest developments reaffirm North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s commitment, as he stated in his New Year’s address, to develop a nuclear missile that can reach the continental US.
Heightened tension over the North Korean provocations is inevitable, as the international community -- led by the UN and the US -- is determined to stop its nuclear and missile programs.
The UN has already imposed its toughest-ever sanctions on the Pyongyang government and its ruling elite, and the US -- in line with President Donald Trump’s pledge that North Korea’s possession of an ICBM capable of striking the US mainland “won’t happen” -- is drawing up a new package of policy measures.
US officials said the new policy -- which will include “a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures” -- will come out “sooner or later.”
As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated during his recent visit to the region, the measures will be tougher than past US policies. In Seoul, Tillerson officially declared the demise of the policy of “strategic patience” of the Barack Obama administration.
Signs of the US getting tougher against the North Korean regime is also palpable at Congress, where lawmakers are invoking their legislative power to rein in the rogue regime in Pyongyang.
One notable example is the introduction of a new bill that could cut off supplies of crude oil and other petrochemical products -- a lifeline to its impoverished economy -- to North Korea. The bill also aims to shut down the North’s overseas financial network and a ban on employing North Korean workers overseas and a block on its online trading and gambling sites.
The recent murder in Malaysia of a half brother of the North’s leader also led the House and the Senate to take turns to propose a bill to relist the country as a terrorism sponsoring state.
This briskness in Washington offers a stark contrast to what we see in Seoul, which is under the most immediate threat from the North’s nuclear bombs and missiles.
The political leadership is in disarray due to the ouster of Park Geun-hye as president, and government officials and politicians are engrossed with the presidential election.
Nonetheless, it indeed is a big problem that none of the government officials or politicians take charge of key national security and foreign policy issues.
One good case in point is the Chinese retaliation regarding the stationing of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery here.
Last week, a group of US House lawmakers introduced a bipartisan resolution condemning China‘s retaliation against South Korea. It also urged Beijing to exercise pressure on North Korea.
Then take a look at our National Assembly. There are two proposals that stand opposite to each other – one similar to the US resolution and the other calling for a halt to the THAAD deployment.
There may be some differences over the effectiveness of the US missile defense system in deterring the North Korean threat, but what is certain is that China’s retaliatory measures are something that should be dealt with in unison and promptly.
It is sad we have a parliament which cannot adopt a bipartisan resolution on an issue that even a foreign legislature is so concerned about. We may have to give up hope that the National Assembly can fill part of the power vacuum created by the impeachment of Park.