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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 2)

All News 09:12 November 02, 2019

Signs of military tensions
Provocations cannot be bargaining chip

North Korea announced Friday that it had successfully tested a new rocket launcher the previous day.

The test followed reports that two U.S. B-52H Stratofortress strategic bombers, assisted by three KC-135R aerial tankers, flew over the East Sea last week. The bombers took off from Anderson Air Base in Guam, according to Aircraft Spots, an aviation tracker.

Earlier in October, the U.S. flew E-8C surveillance aircraft over the Korean Peninsula in a resumption of surveillance missions. Two E-8Cs were dispatched to the U.S. airbase on Japan's Okinawa, the first arrival of such planes at Kadena Air Base since early 2018.

It is apparent that the U.S. missions were prompted by North Korea's test-firing of a new type of submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the Pukguksong-3, Oct. 2, and a series of short-range missile tests before that. And Chinese and Russian military planes have increasingly violated South Korea's air defense identification zone, or KADIZ, over the East Sea in recent weeks.

What is going on in the East Sea? There are increasing signs that tensions may escalate again on the Korean Peninsula amid the deadlock in nuclear disarmament talks between North Korea and the U.S. It is quite worrisome to see the North use provocations apparently as a bargaining chip to gain concessions from the U.S. instead of trying to seek a peaceful solution through negotiations. It is just strange to expect the U.S. and other countries to do nothing while the North is firing missiles. The game changer was presumably the North's SLBM test.

North Korea is not the only one to blame. The U.S. is reportedly seeking to deploy mid-range missiles in Asia after withdrawing from a decades-old bilateral missile treaty with Russia on Aug. 2. It is a notable fact that China and Russia are strengthening their military ties against the U.S., while embracing North Korea more proactively. Some media reports even state that Beijing and Moscow have agreed to forge a military alliance to counter Washington. We have to worry about this situation as the specter of the Cold War still haunts the Korean Peninsula.

In this regard, North Korea's test Thursday of "super-large multiple rocket launchers," as described by the North's Korean Central News Agency, may only be the latest development of the old bitter rivalry. But we should not forget that peace is only fragile here and things can spiral out of control at any time.

If the North-U.S. talks fail to produce tangible results by the year's end, North Korea may choose to return to the era of confrontation and hostility. Its leader Kim Jong-un has vowed to start down a "new path" if there is no agreement with the U.S. by the year's end. Hopefully they can find a peaceful way forward.

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