It appears that North Korea is keeping a very close eye on the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump's opening moves. The North's news media had heaped scorn on former President Barack Obama, but has thus far not made any direct comment on his successor Trump.
In June last year, during the presidential election campaign, Trump stated that he would sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for a meal of hamburgers if the latter made the trip to the United States. The comments created quite a stir at the time, though they appear to have been made to get a laugh during a campaign speech.
Trump went on to say, "There's a 10 percent or a 20 percent chance that I can talk him (Kim) out of those damn nukes." Trump made this pie-in-the-sky comment without referring to any underlying reasoning or evidence -- yet another "post-truth" moment.
Later, in an October speech, the Obama administration's Director of National Intelligence James Clapper expressed a completely opposite view, saying getting North Korea to give up nuclear weapons was "probably a lost cause." In the end, the Obama government's "strategic patience" policy toward North Korea simply gave the secretive communist regime time to advance its nuclear program.
North Korea apparently informed the former Soviet Union of its intention to develop its own nuclear arsenal in 1990, as the Cold War came to a close and Moscow established formal diplomatic relations with South Korea. The move was a direct response to being suddenly swept aside by its erstwhile ally and deprived of the Soviet nuclear umbrella's protection.
At the foundation of the security threats North Korea perceives is a combination of the memory of the destruction wrought during the Korean War and the deployment of American military might in both South Korea and Japan. That is why Pyongyang is seeking to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of striking Washington, the beating heart of U.S. political decision-making.
In his annual New Year's address, Kim Jong Un boasted that North Korea had entered the final development stages of just such an ICBM. Trump took to Twitter to cast doubt on the claim, but considering the pace of North Korean missile development so far, it's certainly not impossible.
Even if harsh economic sanctions are slapped on North Korea, they will have no effect if China doesn't cooperate. The North has long accumulated technology and is blessed with abundant sources of underground wealth. As such, it has been pointed out that added sanctions or restrictions may not seriously hobble the country's missile and nuclear programs.
North Korea has bet its very existence on its brinkmanship strategy. It has been a quarter of a century since the end of the Cold War made North Korea into an international loner, and in that time the regime has used this tactic repeatedly to shape negotiations with the U.S. In truth, it has sometimes been quite successful.
Trump has also made comments suggesting that it would be all right to leave the North Korean nuclear issue to China, the only nation with strong influence in Pyongyang. However, should the U.S. retire from the field for any significant period, the North would be able to make serious progress on its weapons development in that time. The reality is that the U.S. is simply not in a position to deny that it is an important player in the North Korea's nuclear game. (By Katsumi Sawada, Editorial Writer)