NEWS

World Anxiously Waits On North Korea As Tensions Simmer

There are "hard-arse" players and then there's North Korea's "rational" leadership.

15/08/2017 1:23 PM AEST | Updated 15/08/2017 4:00 PM AEST

Just days after the world seemed nearing the brink of nuclear conflict with North Korea, the hermit country says it has delayed its provocative decision to test fire missiles near the U.S. territory of Guam.

But the decision doesn't mean the danger is over, with a series of ongoing diplomatic efforts underway to quell North Korea's ambitions.

On Tuesday North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un received an army report on a plan to launch missiles near the U.S. territory of Guam, but delayed a decision on firing missiles saying he wants to observe the actions of the United States a little longer.

The move follows days of heated rhetoric which sparked fears of potential nuclear conflict, with U.S. president Donald Trump just days ago threatening "fire and fury" if North Korea continued to threaten his country.

U.S. Secretary of Defence James Mattis has warned that further escalation could lead to war.

"Yes that means for a lot of young troops they're going to be in a wartime situation," he said.

Australia has been urging China to leverage it's unique relationship with North Korea to ease tensions, even as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his country would come to America's aid in a regional conflict with the hermit country.

Surrounding this tough talk is a diplomatic effort from a number of global players.

KCNA KCNA / Reuters
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un looks on during the test-fire of inter-continental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, July, 4 2017.

Global Effort To Ease Pressure

The Trump administration may be trying for quiet diplomacy even if the president himself is not.

The administration has been quietly engaged in back channel diplomacy with North Korea for several months, the Associated Press reports, addressing Americans imprisoned in the communist country and deteriorating relations.

But the president isn't talking about it.

"We don't want to talk about progress, we don't want to talk about back channels," Trump told reporters last week.

What he has been talking about is trade. Trump is also preparing the ground for potential sanctions against China while at the same time seeking its help with North Korea, while members of his cabinet walk back pronouncements of "fire and fury" while maintaining the U.S. is ready to defend itself.

Meanwhile the European Union's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said the EU would intensify its diplomatic efforts with North Korea, the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.

Other nations, including Germany and Russia, have also urged calm.

But many -- including Australia -- believe China needs to do the heavy lifting with the rogue state.

POOL New / Reuters
"he's a hard arse," said Kevin Rudd of Xi Jinping, who is pictured here with U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 8, 2017.

China, Headed By A "Hard-Arse"

China's economic influence over North Korea cannot be overstated and must be leveraged, Foreign minister Julie Bishop said on Monday, as she joined world leaders in upping diplomatic pressure on Australia's largest trading partner to act on Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

"Beijing has a particularly close economic relationship with North Korea. Most of North Korea's exports go to China, most of their workers go to China -- so they receive remittences from China," she told Sky News on Monday.

CHINA AND NORTH KOREA

  • China shares a 1,400km border with the hermit country. China is North Korea's biggest trading partner, while North Korea rates as China's 82nd largest trading partner;
  • While the two nations have had historically good relations, things have been tested in recent years in part because of North Korea's ongoing missile tests;
  • U.S. President Donald Trump wants China to do more to deals with North Korea, while at the same time flirting with trade pressure on the Asian economic giant;
  • Australia says China's sway over NK is unique and 'cannot be overstated.'

"Virtually all of the foreign direct investment comes form China, their energy, their oil, their technology."

"China has a unique relationship with north Korea and that relationship must be leveraged to put pressure on North Korea to change it's course."

Beijing may have quietly changed tack amid the bellicose talk, with its point man of 13 years on North Korea, 71-year-old Wu Dawei, reportedly being replaced by Kong Xuanyou, who is currently China's diplomat in charge of Asian affairs.

China has also announced a full import ban on North Korean mineral resources and seafood.

KCNA KCNA / Reuters
The intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 is seen in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang July 5, 2017.

China last week warned North Korea it won't come to its aid if it attacks the U.S., but also said it would defend North Korea if U.S. makes the first move or tries to force regime change.

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Sunday called Chinese leader Xi Jingping a "hard-ass" and urged Trump to use "quiet diplomacy" with China and North Korea instead of Twitter.

Rudd has said he doesn't believe war on the peninsula is probable, but it is becoming a "real risk".

He is a serious hard arseKevin Rudd On China's Xi Jiangping

He also said China's read on the situation is that Trump was bluffing when he threatened a "fire and fury" response to aggression from North Korea.

"This guy is a serious hard head," Rudd said, referring to Chinese President Xi, on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS on Sunday.

"He is a serious hard arse."

"I mean, this guy has been around for a while and if there is going to be a serious conversation here about the future of the Korean peninsula, it has to be conducted in clear, bottom line, but quiet, terms between one administration and the other."

Issei Kato / Reuters
Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) soldiers hold a drill to mobilise their Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile unit in response to recent missiles launch by North Korea, at JSDF Asaka base in Asaka, north of Tokyo, Japan, June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Meanwhile CNN reports Japan is deploying its patriot missile defence system in three of the four prefectures North Korean missiles are likely fly over on the way to Guam.

"There's probably nobody more rational than the North Korean leadership"

Primarily the North Korean leadership wants to survive, said Daniel Pinkston from the Troy University in Seoul.

He told the ABC on Tuesday while North Korea's goals may be irrational -- a unified Korea and continuation of the Kim dynasty -- their way of prioritising strategies they feel will achieve their goals are entirely rational.

Translated: it means they could stay in their lane.

"The good news is the North Korean leadership wishes to survive, they're not suicidal -- they don't believe in some fantastic afterlife and are martyrs and something like that," he told ABC's AM program.

"The North Koreans are the ultimate realists in the world. They believe all political disputes are resolved though power and power asymmetries, or in the shadow of power.

"It's more than a focus, it's like a fetish on power. So they're very cognizant of power imbalances that are not in their favour. And when the power balance is not in their favour, they tend to behave."

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