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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Tuesday, August 21, 2018

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The world watches with bated breath, to see how the war of strategies pans out

Donald Trump v/s Kim Jong Un

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PYONGYANG, North Korea - While the air in Pyongyang is celebratory, ahead of the country’s biggest national day so far - the ‘Day of the Sun’ - the rest of the region is filled with panic. 

On Saturday, North Korea will mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of its founding president, Kim Il Sung.

Ten days later, on April 25, the country will mark the 85th anniversary of the creation of the Korean People’s Army.

With important celebrations lined up in Pyongyang, usually the time the country displays its military progress by firing missiles or conducting nuclear tests, tensions in the region are at an all-time high. 

To add to the worries, the U.S. ordered a navy strike group, led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, to head to the Korean peninsula.

The strike group includes the U.S. aircraft carrier, two missile destroyers, a cruiser and 74 warplanes.

The United States already has about 28,500 troops in South Korea.

An already aggressive North Korea, threatened by America’s Navy strike group, reiterated its warning that if it is threatened, it will strike back with a nuclear attack on America and South Korea. 

Undeterred Trump and his team continue to put pressure on the reclusive nation.

Mastering the act of two birds with one strike - first, Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield, in response to a deadly gas attack - then, a day earlier, the U.S. military dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb, the MAOB - Massive Ordinance Air Blast, also known as the ‘Mother Of All bombs’ on an ISIS tunnel complex in Afghanistan.

Both the acts, strategic in dealing with the respective regions - were also aimed at ensuring North Korea heard America’s message loud and clear - and does not launch a hasty strike that would provoke the U.S.

Angering nuclear North Korea

South Korea, Japan and U.S. continue their annual joint military drills in the region and the installation of the controversial THAAD anti-missile system continues - making not just China, but also North Korea worried. 

China has argued that the military drills only add to the increasing tensions in the area and has opposed the installation of THAAD system, claiming that the powerful radar can probe deep into its territory and compromise its security. 

Pyongyang meanwhile has been critical of the ongoing U.S.-South Korea-Japan joint exercise just south of the Demilitarised Zone claiming it is a provocation to its security. 

Now, China has warned that tensions over North Korea have to be stopped from reaching an "irreversible and unmanageable stage.” 

China has also called for talks leading to a peaceful resolution and the decentralisation of the Korean peninsula.

On Thursday, China said that military force cannot resolve tension over North Korea.

Chinese newspapers also ran commentaries urging the North to halt its nuclear programme offering Chinese protection in exchange.

An editorial in the Global Times, that is published by the Communist party's People's Daily read, "As soon as North Korea complies with China's declared advice and suspends nuclear activities ... China will actively work to protect the security of a denuclearised North Korean nation and regime.”

Further, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing, “We call on all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other, whether in words or actions and not let the situation get to an irreversible and unmanageable stage. Force cannot solve the problem, dialogue can be the only channel to resolve the problem.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to travel to South Korea on Sunday as part of his planned ten-day trip to Asia. 

This, even as North Korea continued to denounce the United States for bringing "huge nuclear strategic assets" to the region.

In a statement issued on Friday, a spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry's Institute for Disarmament and Peace condemned the United States for its attack on the Syrian airfield.

Citing the statement, the North's KCNA news agency said, "The U.S. introduces into the Korean peninsula, the world's biggest hotspot, huge nuclear strategic assets, seriously threatening peace and security of the peninsula and pushing the situation there to the brink of a war. This has created a dangerous situation in which a thermo-nuclear war may break out any moment."

North’s statements came a day after Trump said that North Korea was a problem that "will be taken care of" and he believed Chinese President Xi Jinping would "work very hard" to help resolve it.

Merely four days after the Chinese President Xi Jinping held face-to-face talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in Florida - Trump tweeted that North Korea was “looking for trouble,” and the United States would “solve the problem” with or without China’s help.

Hours later, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a telephonic conversation with Trump, urging for a peaceful solution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

Pre-emptive strike likely?

A day after 38 North, a Washington-based think-tank that monitors North Korea, said that satellite images showed activity around North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site on the east coast - U.S. has said it is prepared to launch a pre-emptive strike if provoked. 

The think-tank said the latest satellite images indicate that the country might be ready for another underground detonation.

This would be its sixth explosive test in a decade and perhaps its most powerful yet.

On Friday, North Korea's vice foreign minister said that it will conduct its next nuclear test whenever its supreme headquarters sees fit.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Vice Minister Han Song Ryol said the situation on the Korean Peninsula was in a "vicious cycle" as tensions with the U.S. and its allies deepen.

Ryol reportedly said, "That is something that our headquarters decides. At a time and at a place where the headquarters deems necessary, it will take place."

Senior U.S. intelligence officials had earlier stated that the U.S. is prepared to launch a pre-emptive strike with conventional weapons against North Korea, should officials become convinced that the North is about to follow through with a nuclear weapons test.

Ryol, however, said that Pyongyang won't "keep its arms crossed" in the face of a U.S. pre-emptive strike.

He even said the Trump administration is "more vicious and more aggressive" than that of President Obama.

Adding, “Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words. It's not [North Korea] but the U.S. and Trump that makes trouble."

He said, "We've got a powerful nuclear deterrent already in our hands, and we certainly will not keep our arms crossed in the face of a U.S. pre-emptive strike. Whatever comes from the U.S., we will cope with it. We are fully prepared to handle it." 

So far, Pyongyang has conducted five nuclear tests, two of those tests were conducted last year, amongst which, one was most shocking as it was estimated to have an explosive yield of 10 to 12 kilotons, or 70 to 80 percent of the force of the 15-kiloton atomic bomb the United States dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945.

Apart from the two provocative nuclear tests, North Korea even test fired the Musudan missiles several times last year, however, only one of those tests recorded success. 

The Musudan missile, with a design range of 1,500 to 2,500 miles, is believed to be capable of reaching South Korea, Japan and even the U.S. territory of Guam. 

The country has shown no willingness to engage in dialogue on the nuclear issue often calling Washington's hope for its denuclearization an outdated illusion.

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