North Korea has conducted missile tests for the third time in just a few days. In doing so, ruler Kim Jong-un is pursuing a clear goal – both towards his allies and towards his enemies.
With Vladimir Putin’s threat in mind that a nuclear strike might decide the war against Ukraine, it makes sense to look to other actors who want to change and unbalance geopolitical reality with their own nuclear bombs.
Iran and North Korea in particular have to worry the world here. The Kremlin maintains good relations with both countries. In mid-July, Putin visited Iran and reiterated his interest in working more closely with the mullah theocracy. In early September it became known that Moscow wanted to buy missiles and artillery from North Korea. However, the corresponding media reports were rejected by North Korea as untrue.
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The People’s Republic of China has also strengthened its ties with Iran and approved an application by the Tehran regime to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This is the conference where primarily former Soviet republics and Russia itself under the leadership of the People’s Republic come together and discuss future common strategies. This rather airy, vague event at the end of September was the scene of the first meeting between Putin and Xi since Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine broke out. Turkey, which is autocratically led by Recep Erdogan, has also declared its desire to be included in the body.
Red Alert: How China’s aggressive foreign policy in the Pacific is leading to a global war
Even though North Korea is not currently being discussed as a potential member of the SCO, Pyongyang has done everything in recent months to support Russia and China on Ukraine and Taiwan. At the same time, North Korea’s official statements to the United States have become more blunt and provocative. Ruler Kim Jong-un sees his country as part of the new axis that Beijing is building against the United States and its allies. That’s why he just provoked the democratic South Korea and the American troops in the region with another missile test.
The North Korean missiles were detonated on Sunday September 25th. Seoul branded the weapons tests a violation of UN resolutions. US forces said the tests could never have harmed US troops. Similar to the advance of the Chinese army into Taiwanese airspace and waters, the North Korean provocations are intended to keep Pyongyang’s opponents in suspense and wear them down and demoralize them over time. The North Korean military’s last major missile test in May also provoked Japan, an ally of the US, South Korea and Taiwan. These three countries are also intimate enemies of China’s ruler Xi Jinping.
In Xi’s thinking, with their wars, maneuvers and missile tests, Putin and Kim are doing tasks for the People’s Republic that Xi doesn’t want to get his hands dirty with. North Korea is just as isolated and sanctioned as rogue states Russia and Iran. To the extent that the US and its free-world allies are busy preventing Tehran and Pyongyang from pursuing their nuclear programs, they cannot devote the resources needed to halt the expansionist nuclear superpower China. Since China is not directly in the game itself, Xi need not fear sanctions that would further weaken the struggling Chinese economy.
Washington and Seoul are responding to the threat from the north with joint maneuvers. Around 28,500 United States soldiers are currently stationed in South Korea to work with the South Korean military to defend the country in the event of an invasion from the north. Should the People’s Republic follow through on its announcement of an attack against Taiwan and at the same time give Pyongyang the signal to confuse the US army with missile tests and other provocations and supposedly or actually go into a two-front war, a victory for Taiwan and the USA over the aggressor China would no longer be certain .
As of this writing, US President Biden already has enough to do with credibly reassuring his allies that his administration can engage in Europe against Russia and in the Pacific for Taiwan at the same time. Should another, third, military conflict arise, Washington’s forces could be overstretched. The fact that Beijing is assembling its international thugs from a Russian warmonger, holy warriors and a Stone Age dictatorship relentlessly reveals that Xi’s once full-bodied intention of making the People’s Republic an important and reliable player in international relations is finally history.
Alexander Görlach is Honorary Professor of Ethics at Leuphana University in Lüneburg and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. The PhD linguist and theologian is currently working on a project on “digital cosmopolitanism” at the Internet Institute at Oxford University and the Faculty of Philosophy at New York University.
Alexander Görlach was a Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Harvard University in the USA and Cambridge University in England. After stints in Taiwan and Hong Kong, he has focused on the rise of China and what it means for East Asian democracies in particular. He has recently published the following titles: “Red Alert: Why China’s Aggressive Foreign Policy in the Western Pacific Is Leading to a Global War” (Hoffmann
From 2009 to 2015, Alexander Görlach was also the publisher and editor-in-chief of the debate magazine The European, which he founded. Today he is a columnist and author for various media such as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the New York Times. He lives in New York and Berlin.
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