The era of strategic patience with North Korea’s nuclear weapons development is over, the Trump administration insists, and so is the era of strategic subtlety, apparently. Vice President Mike Pence restated the theme while visiting Panmunjom, the village at the political divide on the Korean Peninsula. After twenty-five years of trying to resolve the standoff through negotiation and through international sanctions, Pence warned, “all options are on the table” now:
Pointing to the quarter-century since North Korea first obtained nuclear weapons, the vice president said a period of patience followed.
“But the era of strategic patience is over,” Pence said. “President Trump has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out and we want to see change. We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons, and also its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable.”
Later Monday, Pence reiterated in a joint statement alongside South Korean Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn that “all options are on the table” to deal with threat and said any use of nuclear weapons by Pyongyang would be met with “an overwhelming and effective response.” He said the American commitment to South Korea is “iron-clad and immutable.”
CBS News reports from a White House source that had Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test this weekend as expected, the US would have taken some of those “other actions.” As it is, Pence warned the Kim regime to pay attention to US moves in Syria and Afghanistan to figure out what the new administration means by running out of patience. In fact, Pence repeated it to make sure that the message got across:
There, during a trip to the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea and later in remarks to journalists, he issued strong warnings to Pyongyang.
“Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan,” the vice president said after delivering a statement to the media alongside Hwang Kyo-ahn, South Korea’s acting president. Neither took questions.
“North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” Pence said.
Pence also made sure that Beijing got the message, too:
“While issues like [THAAD] remain, the president and I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea but as President Trump made clear just a few short days ago, if China is unable to deal with North Korea, the United States and our allies will,” the vice president said.
It’s unclear whether South Korea is as enthusiastic about ending strategic patience at this moment. They reacted to last week’s messaging by publicly insisting that the US refrain from acting unless Seoul approved first, but it’s not clear whether the Trump administration would agree to such a restraint. That is complicated by the political crisis south of the 38th Parallel unfolding at the moment. Their newly impeached president Park Geun-hye may face life in prison for corruption in a scandal that is the focus of South Korean politics. The scandal involves the US and its aggressive plans to counter Pyongyang’s missile systems, albeit indirectly:
South Korean prosecutors on Monday charged ousted president Park Geun-hye and Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin with bribery in the latest twist to a corruption scandal that rocked the country for months. …
Lotte, South Korea’s fifth-biggest conglomerate, is grappling with the Chinese shutdown of dozens of its stores in China, after it agreed to provide land for the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system outside Seoul.
The country will hold a special election in three weeks to replace Park as president. That leaves the chain of command in flux for a while. A caretaker government probably won’t want to commit to any military action, and the pressure placed on South Korea by this sudden shift to confrontation with the Kim regime in the north could produce some political backfire in the south. It’s a political minefield through which the Trump administration had better tiptoe carefully, at least for the next few weeks.
Addendum: Is China cutting off North Korea’s access to tourism? They say no, but …
State broadcaster CCTV reported last Friday that Air China had suspended its Beijing-Pyongyang route, leading to speculation the move was intended to pressure the North.
But foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang distanced his government from the decision and said it was purely “market-based”.
Maaaayyyyybeeee, but …
Travel disruption also hit North Korea’s flag carrier Air Koryo, which saw its Beijing-bound service delayed more than ten hours on Monday.
Workers at Pyongyang airport told passengers the delay was weather-related, although conditions in the area and in Beijing appeared clear. …
Gan Tingting, a spokeswoman for tourism booking site Lvmama.com, said trips to North Korea had long been discontinued because the country was “not a hot destination”.
Foreign companies bringing tour groups to North Korea, however, have seen no dip in demand.