Is North Korea the new tinder?

Is North Korea the new tinder?

05/2017  | Reading time: 10 minutes

Everyone hates online dating app Tinder, yet it undeniably brings people together-- one way or another. In the last couple of months, it seems like North Korea has become the East Asian region’s Tinder, mostly thanks to its repeated threats of nuclear aggression. The intensifying provocations, especially the three ballistic missiles landing in Japan’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) in April, are finally speeding up the long overdue cooperative initiatives between the regional actors. 

Historical adversaries and traumas have kept the region divided for far too long. The 20th century was a magnet for regional conflicts and war-related offenses for the Chinese and Korean nations, giving birth to the infamous comfort women issue, as well as others such as the Kuril Islands and the Senkaku dispute.

These issues created scars so permanent that regional balance is still uncertain. China and Japan continues to have bad relations due to Chinese military ascendancy in the South China Sea, while South Korea is still sour over the Yasukuni shrine visits by Japanese politicians, indicating real or presumed revisionism on the Japanese side over former Japanese occupation in the Korean Peninsula. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attempted to solve the Korean issue by setting up an agreement regarding the comfort women controversy (in the form of a huge sum paid to the Korean government), but the now-impeached Park administration chose to not fulfill their part of the agreement when Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada took a trip to the controversial shrine in December. 

An officer in front of the Japanese and South Korean flag
Source: Reuters

Despite the never-ending bickering, the recent events surrounding the North Korean nuclear issue urged the regional players to finally start to actively deal with the escalating situation. A new phenomenon of this century is the inclusion of the Russian Federation into the category of “regional players”. Despite its geographical proximity, Russia was mostly quite a passive actor until the past couple of years. Now, as PM Abe is becoming more and more ambitious about regaining control over the Kuril Islands and finally concluding the WWII peace treaty with Russia, a channel for dialog has been opened between the two countries.

Although Putin has been systematically rearming the Kurils, he was careful to distance himself from regional disputes. As a closer economic cooperation is starting to form in the aftermath of the Kuril talks, this position is bound to change. In this framework, China is naturally the one attracting the most attention. Being the prime economic benefactor of North Korea, the other nations are somewhat dependent on China’s resolve to pressure Pyongyang. With the additional American help, PM Abe is increasingly vocal about a long-overdue cooperation against Kim Jong-un, in the form of resuming the six-party talks.

North Korea’s nuclear path up until 2016
Source: The Economist

A first step would be the complete enforcement of the U.N. Security Council resolutions on the denuclearization of North Korea. In this matter, the world’s eyes are once again on China. The U.S., and especially President Trump, has a different perception of time, which has led to talk of deploying an aircraft carrier (The USS Carl Vinson) to counter the North Korean pressure. Such active participation can definitely help bring the involved nations together, but the amount of effort to be expected from non-US parties is yet to be decided. Obviously, the militarily crippled Japan can offer much less than South Korea or China, which is why PM Abe has once again begun to strongly advocate amending the constitution.

Despite the domestic opposition and the overall pacifism of the citizens, in case of a threat like the North Korean, this goal might be less of a fantasy as many would assume. Last year’s massive increase in defense spending and the newly purchased helicopter carrier are definitely a major step for Japan. 

Of course, one should never be too optimistic about the Far East. Administrations come and go, but the same issues seem to stay. Only time will tell whether our East Asian Tinder will be successful in its task of reuniting these countries, or the parties will uninstall it with a deep hatred towards the app. However, a temporary cooperation may not mean a prosperous covenant between these countries. Even the Americans have mentioned at various points that this initiative does not mean that they will allow China to further enhance its military influence in the South China Sea, but against the bigger threat, they are willing to set this issue aside for a while, regardless of whether they succeed or not. And this is more than many other nations can do. 

 

Opening pic by Reuters

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