Various countermeasures to the North Korean nuclear threat are being discussed in the wake of the North’s recent nuclear warhead explosion test. According to Gallup Korea’s survey conducted between September 20 and 22 before the results were made public on September 23, 58% of the 1,010 adult respondents are in favor of South Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons while 34% answered the other way around. In the previous survey immediately following a nuclear test in January this year, the percentages had been 54% vs. 38%.
Advocacy of nuclear armament gives a powerful impression and, as such, is highly popular. However, a balance based on nuclear armament and the fear it generates can result in a permanent separation between the two Koreas. In practice as well, impossible is South Korea’s independent nuclear armament defying diplomatic and economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the international community as a whole.
This issue was handled during the TV debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on September 26. “Donald Trump is saying that it is okay for Japan and South Korea to arm themselves with nuclear weapons but such an indifferent attitude toward the nuclear issue is extremely dangerous,” she pointed out. Trump said in response, “China, which has a great influence over North Korea, should have been the one to tackle the issue.”
Japan also has been extremely nervous since the fifth nuclear test of the North on September 9. As shown repeatedly by Trump during the election campaign period, Washington, which is blocking Japan from having a nuclear weapon, is gradually changing its stance. Furthermore, an increasing number of people in the United States are thinking that Japan’s nuclear armament is the best deterrent against North Korea. South Korea cannot just sit back and relax if Japan arms itself with nuclear weapons. In other words, a nuclear domino effect in Northeast Asia arises in that case. Then, situations cannot be worse for China.
“Nuclear armament is North Korea’s keynote and it will continue both quantitatively and qualitatively so that true peace can be achieved and the state’s dignity and right to survive can be protected,” said North Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Ri Yong-ho at the United Nations on September 23 with the international community looking to resort to additional sanctions for the fifth nuclear test.
Under the circumstances, a regime change is becoming more and more persuasive as a measure to deal with the current situation in which Pyongyang is unlikely to drop its nuclear ambition. The strongest action plans for the regime change include sanctions for blocking every money flow into the North, which are similar to those imposed on Iran, and secondary boycott of every Chinese company in business with North Korea. The sanctions on Iran were lifted this year after its economy had been paralyzed due to oil export ban and the subsequent excessive depreciation of the local currency.
In the end, it is China that holds the key to the North Korean nuclear issue. Although China’s tepidness is leading to skepticism about economic sanctions on North Korea, Washington needs to take advantage of the secondary boycott the Congress voted for and the size of bilateral trade between China and itself as its leverages. At present, China’s trade surplus in relation to the U.S. is more than US$300 billion a year.