2017 saw dramatic events across the Asia-Pacific. The leaders of both China and Japan won new terms in office; forces loyal to ISIS held a Philippine city hostage for months; Australia legalized same-sex marriage and moved to wind down its much-criticized off-shore refugee camps. In the last two Pacific News Minutes of the year, Neal Conan focuses on stories likely to make news in 2018 as well as today, North Korea.
In February, South Korea hosts the Winter Olympic Games against an ominous background. Despite three rounds of increasingly stringent sanctions this past year alone, North Korea shows no sign of any intention to cease development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
On September 3rd, it detonated its sixth and biggest bomb yet. A thermo-nuclear weapon, it said – a hydrogen bomb. It also tested intercontinental missiles with the range to reach almost anywhere in the U.S.
A report published over the weekend in Seoul predicted that the North will conduct at least one more missile test to show that it’s mastered the last technological hurdle. A warhead able to survive re-entry from space. North Korea’s foreign minister suggested a dramatic demonstration of that capability – a hydrogen bomb test in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that he will not allow North Korea to deploy nuclear tipped missiles able to strike the United States; National Security Advisor General H. R. McMaster says the administration prefers a diplomatic solution but also warns that time is running out.
South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, proposes to postpone joint military exercises with the U.S. until after the Olympics and the Para-Olympic Games. Such a pause could create diplomatic space for negotiations, but no one knows whether North Korea will co-operate.