Balancing act may end in tragedy

Editorial | 31 Jul 2017

North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un is playing with fire each time he test fires his missiles.

Despite repeated threats from the United States and appeals from China, it's clear "Fatty Kim the Third" marches only to the beat of his own drum.

While some military experts remain skeptical about Kim's claims that he's acquired the capability to strike any part of America, after his second intercontinental ballistic missile fired in a month flew further and higher than before, it's almost certain that after so many tests, he has made substantial progress in his ability to deliver nuclear warheads to the continental United States.

Reactions to the dictator's latest game play have again been largely standard.

US President Donald Trump warned he would react with all possible measures, but stopped short of pressing the button to rain Tomahawk cruise missiles down on North Korea - as he had done with Syria over the Bashar al- Assad regime's use of chemical weapons against his own people.

China, as usual, expressed opposition to all kinds of acts that could escalate the situation on the Korean peninsula.

Perhaps South Korean President Moon Jae In has made the most significant response. That wasn't his order for a joint military drill, but his consent for the final units of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system that he had put on hold since winning the presidential election to be installed.

By firing a ballistic missile higher into space, Kim has offered military hawks in his "enemy's camp" an excuse to press for THAAD to be set up completely, which is bound to strain the thawing relationship between Seoul and Beijing.

Kim, in snubbing Moon's olive branch, isn't regarding South Korea as a rival.

The triangular war game allows each participant to gain something. Kim is confident his brutal regime would be safe after securing the nuclear might, betting the United States would be reluctant to go to war due to fears for American lives.

Meanwhile, Trump is leaning on - or trying to coerce - President Xi Jinping to turn the screws on Kim for him, tying North Korea to Sino-US trade and South China Sea disputes.

But Xi may play his own trump card to ratchet the pressure back up on Uncle Sam on other issues of China's concern.

The equilibrium is stable as long as the game is played on the premise North Korea doesn't possess a nuclear arsenal.

Pyongyang is pushing the limits toward gaining the capability to deliver warheads to targets of its choice around the world. If the big brothers are so worried about clear and present dangers, the equilibrium that has last for decades will be upset.

Will Trump, engulfed by problems at home, be tempted to venture externally under the influence of his military hawks?

While Xi will maintain the status quo prior to the 19th plenary session of the Chinese Communist party, will he decide to take action against Pyongyang after strengthening his power base at the plenary session?

Kim is clever. But, as he plays power balancing, he's also testing the patience and resolve of the Western powers, each time he flies his missiles higher and further - until the equilibrium collapses.

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