By Victor Schultz
One of the benefits of living in Aomori is the relative ease of travelling to other parts of Asia. There’s even a flight direct from Aomori to South Korea, which I fully intend to take advantage of sometime in the next year. However, being incredibly close to the south indisputably means being close to the north as well. And if you’re paying attention to the actions of The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea’s diplomatic name), being close to them means a lot of nervous glances and cold sweats.
Being a country close to North Korea right now is a lot like being the family member sitting across from the little jerk of a cousin at Christmas Dinner. You and all the other family are eating nicely, talking politely, and most hostility is expressed under a very diplomatic veneer.
But even though all this is going on, everyone is still sitting around the table calmly. They are all being careful not to push too hard or too far. Perhaps there isn’t mutual respect of each other at all times, but there is mutual respect for the status quo. Everyone is looking at one another out of the sides of their eyes and thinking “Sometimes I really hate this family but we all ought to play nice because no one really wins if we ruin the dinner by fighting.”
And then there’s North Korea. Sitting by itself, at a little table. And occasionally, everyone at the table watches as North Korea loads up some mashed potatoes onto his spoon and catapults it across the table.
He hasn’t hit anyone yet, but it’s pretty clear he’s gauging distance, checking the flight capabilities of simple mash versus mixing in some butter or adding extra pepper. And everyone is really uneasy about it. Surely he wouldn’t break the status quo?
In case you’re a bit slow on the uptake, this is the vivid analogy I think of anytime I read an article about North Korean missile tests. Just this morning, as I write this, there was another one. Well, another four, to be exact. These missiles were all launched into the Sea of Japan, and three of the four landed in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Japan. (An area of water extending some 200 nautical miles out from the shores of Japan) The total flight distance of the longest missile was about 1000km.
At this point there isn’t much more that can be done to sanction the hostile actions of the unstable state. The current leader, Kim Jong-un, is desperate to obtain nuclear missile capabilities. North Korea already has nuclear bomb technology, but is believed to still be in process of developing a way to miniaturize the warheads for launch.
Kim believes that to protect his country and his reign, nuclear missiles are the only way to safeguard against foreign involvement. Due to the North’s unceasing pursuit of this goal, they have been heavily sanctioned by global powers. Most recently, their main ally, China, has finally enacted embargos on their trade, stopping purchases of coal from North Korean mines.
Unfortunately, this will impact the bottom of the North Korean pyramid far more than the top. Still recovering from a devastating famine in 1998, the poor of the nation relied heavily on foreign aid. The common laborers and those out of favor with the political elites gained most of their income and food from exporting coal. Both these sources of sustenance have been cut in light of the multiple nuclear tests and belligerence of the nation’s government.
So what more can be done? At this stage, everyone sees the spoonful of potatoes, but can’t do much more than wring their hands and hope that North Korea reconsiders actually hurling them. In the meantime, it would be prudent to keep a weather eye out for anything large and missile shaped coming across the Sea of Japan.