Ignore us at your peril
A 65-minute-long artillery barrage on November 23rd rained down upon the tiny South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, marking the first time since the war of 1950-53 that the North has fired shells at civilian targets on land.
Four South Koreans—two civilians and two marines—were killed in the onslaught that left houses and hillsides in flames, and about 20 injured.
The barrage came only days after North Korea revealed a new uranium-enrichment facility to American scientists. Its operators told the visitors that its purpose was to generate nuclear fuel—but no one missed the message that its output could just as well be used to make warheads.
The first is that the regime is reverting to familiar gangland tactics to bully its way back to international negotiations under the framework of the stalled six-party talks, chaired by China and including America, Japan and Russia. South Korea and its main allies, America and Japan, have since last year engaged in a process that Barack Obama’s administration calls “strategic patience”: offering to renew talks only when the North makes a meaningful commitment to scrap its nuclear arsenal.
Victor Cha of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and a Bush administration negotiator with North Korea, says the regime has been trying hard to prove its mettle as it enters an unstable era of new leadership.
America’s state department insists it will not “buy into this reaction-reward cycle that North Korea seeks to perpetuate”.
This leaves China alone in a position to break the stalemate, by applying quiet pressure on its unruly ally. But China’s public reaction, as after the Cheonan’s sinking, was to urge calm and to condemn no one. And when China is a milquetoast, it only emboldens the Kim family—making life worse for everyone else.