North Korea: A Print Media Analysis of the Nuclear Test

01 Mar, 2013    ·   3830

Anu Krishnan analyses Southeast Asian news reports in order to understand their stance on the recent North Korean nuclear test

North Korea’s third nuclear test on February 12 this year met with vehement criticism from much of the world. The United States, Japan, European Union, Britain, Pakistan and France were quick enough to condemn this latest test and reinforce calls for strong sanctions on Pyongyang. Meanwhile, Southeast Asian nations have unanimously opposed the test that has been termed ‘defiant’ by the big powers. What are the varying views of Southeast Asian nations? How do these views reflect the perception of these nations towards North Korea? This commentary uses a print media survey to try and answer these questions.

Under the US umbrella: South Korea & Japan
US President Barack Obama has announced that South Korea holds a position under its nuclear umbrella, suggesting that deterrence would safeguard South Korea from North Korea’s nuclear attacks. However, the academic consensus in South Korea on the effectiveness of deterrence has begun to waver. Research scholars are calling for regional initiatives and multilateral security frameworks to compensate the failure of South Korea’s deterrence policy (North Korea’s nuclear test: Opportunities for regional paradigm shift, The Korea Times, 18 February, 2013). Analysts also recommend a more hardline approach like military innovation since South Korea’s military capability could fail to tackle North Korea’s successful adaptation to its US-led negation (South Korea struggles with deterrence, The Korea Times, 14 February 2013). North Korean diplomat Jon Yong-ryong’s provocative statement at the UN Disarmament Conference in Geneva has cemented the impression that North Korea employs these tests to threaten Seoul (N. Korea threatens to conduct ‘final destruction’ on Seoul, The Korea Herald, 20 February, 2012).

Iran has allegedly assisted the nuclear test scientifically and economically (North Korea nuclear test sponsored by Iran: Report, The Korea Times, 19 February 2013). The presence of a number of Iranian scientists in the North Korean test site has sparked off doubts of a nuclear missile warhead being developed by the two adversaries of the US.

Trilateral cooperation between US, Japan and South Korea is being examined, says an article in the Japan Times (North’s nuclear test to top Abe-Obama agenda, The Japan Times, 18 February 2013). Japan’s Prime Minister believes slapping tight sanctions on North Korea will achieve the impediment of its nuclear mission. Japan is also critical of China’s approach towards North Korea, and propounds the fact that the Chinese population wants the State to harden its stand on North Korea (Chinese protests assail North Korea for nuclear test, The Asahi Shimbun, 18 February 2013)

China's Balancing Act?
The spokesperson for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry has stated that its nuclear test was to counter growing US aggression. (DPRK calls nuclear test "self-defense" against U.S. hostility, Xinhua, 12 February 2013). Chinese experts have identified the US-North Korea antagonism as the cause of the nuclear test. The test has been promulgated as an act of self-defense against the US and an article suggests that the US, Japan and South Korea should assume collective responsibility for the same (Chinese experts see U.S.-DPRK antagonism as root cause of nuke test, Xinhua, 17 February 2013). Academic scholars say that the US has consistently fuelled North Korea’s security concerns, having protected South Korea under its security umbrella (US ‘must act to easy peninsula tension’, China Daily, 18 February 2013) and that North Korea is an independent country that makes its own decisions.

The state-owned newspaper Global Times has affirmed that given their economic and geopolitical interests, the China-North Korea relationship will continue on a steady road. But North Korea has to refrain from performing such provocative acts again. (Will the China-NK alliance stay stable, Global Times, 17 February 2013). China, North Korea’s most important trading partner, says that an absolutist stance on Pyongyang might be taken if it proceeds with such provocative acts.

While sanctions on North Korea are being advocated by US, Japan and South Korea, China holds the view that sanctions can only lead to more provocation and yield counter-productive results. China upholds the UN Security Council’s discussions on disarmament as the constructive solution to the predicament. (China urges calm on DPRK, China Daily, 19 February 2013). Prompting North Korea to participate in the Six-Party talks is a key step, believes China.

Smaller Powers: Are the Apprehensions Real?
Philippine scholars have acknowledged that the nuclear test has made their security concerns fuelled appear real (With test, North Korea threat looks more real, Global Nation, 13 February 2013). The test has posed a definite threat to US and it is seen as an attempt to trigger the international community in North Korea’s favour (North Korea defies world with nuclear test, The Borneo Post, 13 February 2013). Vietnam has called on concerned parties to resolve the issue peacefully as it threatens the peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula (Vietnam gravely concerned over DPRK’S nuclear test, Vietnam News, 13 February 2013).