The failed launch by North Korea of its satellite yesterday raises questions about what Pyongyang might do next that could destabilize the regional geopolitics. Speculation now turns to a possible conduction of a nuclear test to compensate for the failed launch.
The potential North Korean satellite launch caused enough worry around the world on the regime’s real aims. The breakup of the rocket is unfortunate for North Korea’s space program, but it translates into a collective sigh of relief for the world, as we avoided an unneeded rise in regional tensions that may have had unpredictable consequences if South Korea or Japan had fired on the rocket and the North had perceived this as an act of war.
The worry isn’t over, because if North Korea conducts a nuclear test, as it did in 2006 and 2009, the consequences again cannot be predicted. China is also put in a tight spot because of its rowdy neighbor. A failed launch with a nuclear test may combine to push Beijing away from North Korea and towards the international consensus denouncing Pyongyang. From a strategic point of view, China will not sacrifice its relations with America for the world’s last Stalinist regime.
The consequences for the peninsula will not be good in such a scenario. It might be the catalyst that pushes the North in a reactionary war – as it seems incapable of diplomacy – as China’s withdrawal would push it into a fatal isolation from the world.
For this reason, the question rests with China – Washington cannot prevent Pyongyang’s destabilizing behaviour, even if it is trying its diplomatic best; diplomacy takes two, not one. Beijing must take the lead and find the diplomatic finesse and subtlety to discipline North Korea accordingly, but without sparking war on the peninsula, because that would be disastrous for everyone in the region.