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North Korea denounces US naval deployment to the region
North Korea condemned on Monday the US sending a naval strike group to the area, and has vowed that it is ready for "war". The development raises questions about the possibility of conflict in the region. RFI's Tom Wheeldon takes a closer look.
The potential for regional conflict has increased, especially after US President Donald Trump's warning that America is willing to take uniliateral action against North Korea, if its main ally China doesn't rein it in.
“What China’s been trying to do is to engage in dialogue,” says James Hannah, Asia analyst at UK-based think tank Chatham House.
“The problem is that without a commitment in Pyongyang to engage in discussion on denuclearisation, the support in Washington D.C., Seoul and Tokyo is pretty limited.”
After a series of missile tests, many experts think Pyongyang is two to three years away from getting workable nuclear weapons.
“It may be that the missile strikes against Syria is indirectly an attempt to signal that where North Korea is concerned, the US is willing to consider all options,” notes John Nilsson-Wright, East Asia expert at Cambridge University.
South Korea weighs in
After the impeachment of the conservative president Park Geun-hye, widely seen as tough on North Korea, elections are only a month away in South Korea.
Frontrunner Moon Jae-in supports a more conciliatory approach to the North. But snapping at his heels in the polls in Ahn Choel-Soo, who favours a more hawkish position against Pyongyang - he's especially keen on sanctions. This might affect what North Korea does in the next month.
“From the point of view of North Korea, the question is: who would they best want to see succeeding the impeached president Park?” says Nilsson-Wright. “The likelihood is that they would prefer Moon over Ahn – in which case, if they’re following events closely, they have an incentive to avoid any provocations between now and the elections.”
Beneath all of this, as far as North Korea goes one thing is clear. President Kim Jong-Un's one big priority is his regime's survival. And, when announcing a weapons test in January, his government news agency specifically referred to the fates of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. These dictators gave up their nuclear weapons programmes, then they couldn't prevent regime change by the West. That is the strongest sign that, whatever the US or China might do, North Korea will continue its nuclear weapons ambitions.