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Bracing for the worst

Apr 13,2017
The heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula only gets worse. A rumor of a possible war in April between the United States and North Korea spread fast in both cyberspace and the real world. On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump once again stirred the pot with a post on Twitter. “North Korea is looking for trouble,” he wrote. “If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer scrambled on the bandwagon on the same day. Asked by the press if the United States would really conduct a preemptive strike on North Korea, he tersely said that President Trump was ready to act. Both men’s remarks can be read as Uncle Sam’s unflinching determination to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem in a single-handed manner.

More surprising was Wednesday’s emergency telephone conversation between Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The conversation took place only five days after the two leaders had a summit at Trump’s Florida resort. For heads of state to need to talk on the phone just a few days after a summit is very rare. Press Secretary Spicer’s explanation that the leaders exchanged views about the current situation on the peninsula explicitly shows the level of their concerns about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

If North Korea conducts a sixth nuclear test or launches an advanced type of intercontinental ballistic missile, or both, it will almost certainly lead to an unpredictable situation for the Korean Peninsula. The Global Times, China’s most belligerent state-run mouthpiece and published under the auspices of the People’s Daily, expressed deep concerns in an editorial on Wednesday. “A new nuclear test or an intercontinental ballistic missile test, if conducted by Pyongyang at this time, will be a slap in the face of the U.S. government and will intensify the confrontation between North Korea and the U.S.,” it read. All these signals are warnings that the Korean Peninsula can be thrown into the vortex of a massive military clash depending on how North Korea reacts.

War should be avoided and wild rumors suggesting the possibility of war must stop too. On the other hand, our government must be well prepared for a range of worst-case scenarios after thoroughly studying all possibilities. It is time for the government to closely communicate with Washington and Beijing so as to help ease the worsening tension on the peninsula before it is too late.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 13, Page 34