The shelling last Tuesday of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, killing 2 marines and 2 civilians, as well as destroying a number of houses, follows the killing of 46 South Korean sailors last March, whose ship was undoubtedly torpedoed by a North Korean submarine. This latest incident also follows the earlier public display of the “rogue state’s” advanced weaponised plutonium facility. There is now a dangerous ratcheting-up of tensions throughout the imperialist strategic chessboard of South East Asia involving not just North and South Korea but Japan, China and the United States. Nobody at the moment wants war, certainly not the major players of China and America, but the situation has its own in-built brinkmanship and irrationality that potentially threatens to get out of hand.
The 1950-53 Korean War, where Russia and China backed the North against the US -backed regime of the South, saw some 13,000 tonnes of bombs dropped by the US on North Korea every month. The war has never been officially ended and tensions flare up periodically. These tensions are made even more dangerous in the present period of rising militarism, a greater assertion of Chinese imperialism and the situation where the US, as the sole world Godfather, is continually driven to stamp its presence.
After the attack, President Obama called North Korea (BBC News, November 23rd) a “serious and ongoing threat that has to be dealt with”. Prior to that the US labelled it a “rogue state” and Bush placed it in an “axis of evil”. There are tens of thousands of US troops permanently based in both South Korea and Japan and the US is constantly engaging in military exercises in and around the disputed waters of the two Koreas. The sending of an aircraft carrier group around the USS George Washington (due to arrive on the 29th) can only increase tensions still further. The sacking of the South Korean defence minister for not responding quickly enough to the barrage – fire was returned in 13 minutes – is another source of tension. The government has said that it will “redraw the rules of engagement” which at present focus on avoiding escalation (The Guardian, 26.11). About five years ago the Pentagon discussed around the possibilities of nuclear strikes against North Korean “assets” and today at least two US nuclear sites have fully armed missiles permanently targeting the Pyongyang regime. Its plan of “strategic patience”, i.e., squeezing North Korea with tightened sanctions and military provocations, while demanding immediate denuclearisation, is broadly the one that the US employs against Iran – stick and stick.
But there is no sign of the regime collapsing as the US hoped and it appears as strong and as brutal as ever. If anything the ties between North Korea and China are also as strong as ever with the latter seemingly welcoming the accession of the son of the “Great Leader”, Kim Jong Eun and offering long-term support. China is still smarting over the $6 billion plus US arms deal to Taiwan and appears to be in no mood to call its “running dog” to heel, at least not publicly. North Korea plays a vital strategic role as a buffer zone for China and the latter will also prop it up in order to keep millions of refugees frompouring across its borders. All these warmongers say that they want “stability” but they are playing a dangerous game that is made even more volatile by a world imperialist order that has become increasingly chaotic in the last two decades