The North Korea issue is one of the key potential hot spots in the East Asian region. It is in fact so important that it managed to bring together a number of world powers – China, US, Russia, Japan, and South Korea – over a relatively long period of four years. The six-party-talks were ultimately discontinued, but the issue lived on in both practical and theoretical planes. Pyongyang’s aggressive statements, sporadic, irrational behaviour, and arms tests served as a catalyst for many defence-related processes in the neighbouring countries. Japan, for example, began rethinking its security and fantasizing about nuclear weapons as a result of North Korea’s impending threat.
Reactions to the North Korea issue managed to shed some light on the countries’ motives and interests. The US’s reaction traditionally reflects its security policy regarding Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. China’s calm behaviour, on the other hand, suggests that Beijing is in control or at least very well aware of North Korea’s situation and prospects. China strongly objects Japan’s desire to obtain its own nuclear weapon yet takes North Korea’s one lightly. Neither Beijing nor Washington seem to really want to put an end to the whole issue.
This leads to several hypothesis that need to be analyzed:
– Beijing is most likely using North Korea as its proxy soft security tool for political and security purposes.
– As a standalone country, North Korea is a hard security issue, but in the context of Beijing’s power games, it is a soft security issue.
– The situation in North Korea is actually helping the stability in the Region because it draws attention from other hot issues, such as the Sino-Japanese rivalry.
– Beijing is interested in keeping the North Korean status quo for as long as possible.