Korean crisis

Tension in the Korean peninsula, which was sparked by North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean ship in March, is spiralling. The South Korean government has expressed its anger with Pyongyang through a series of steps, including a ban on all trade, investment and visits with North Korea. It has banned North Korean ships from using its waterways or shortcuts. It is also referring the case to the United Nations Security Council. North Korea, which is denying having sunk the ship has reportedly placed its armed forces on alert. The sudden and sharp deterioration in relations between the two Koreas is unfortunate. Inter-Korea relations have undergone a significant improvement in recent years. That is now in serious jeopardy. There is understandable anger in South Korea. Forty-six of its sailors were killed when the ship sank. But calls for retribution must not be encouraged as an escalation of the crisis is not in nobody’s interest.

The response of the international community has not been helpful so far. Although the United States has desisted from describing the sinking of the ship as an act of war, its recent announcement that US forces would conduct joint naval exercises with South Korea in the near future “to ensure readiness and to deter future aggression” by North Korea is provocative. Instead of working to ease tensions in the peninsula, its actions are adding fuel to the fire in a region that is restive. As for China, it has adopted a cautious approach. China must use its leverage over Pyongyang to quietly but firmly convince it that hostile behaviour is untenable.

How the permanent members act in the UNSC will determine the events in the Korean peninsula. If the US seeks to bulldoze a resolution that provides for punishing sanctions, China will block it. A divided SC will leave the UN severely scarred. It will also encourage countries to engage in the kind of reckless behaviour that North Korea has indulged in. World powers must seek a consensus to deal with North Korea. Punishing Pyongyang with tough sanctions might seem an attractive solution but that might not be the best way to go in the long run as sanctions have rarely worked in forcing regimes to act responsibly. A carrot and stick solution must be sought.

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