1 Setember 2016
TOKYO - The deepening relationship between China and South Korea over the past several years was described as one of the most consequential changes in East Asian politics in decades. Chinese President Xi Jinping has met six times with his South Korean counterpart, Park Geun-hye, a Mandarin speaker. He has yet to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
And yet, the honeymoon has been cut short. Much to China's surprise, the Park administration is now rushing to strengthen ties with the U.S. and Japan.
North Korea's successful test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM, on Aug. 24 has hastened Seoul's change of heart. All signs suggest Park has concluded that China's influence over Pyongyang is limited -- and certainly not strong enough to form the basis of the South's national security strategy.
The about-face has far-reaching implications, including the revival of a currency swap agreement between Japan and South Korea. The SLBM is nothing short of a game changer.
ALL IN ON MISSILES: Under the direct orders of Kim Jong Un, restaurants in Pyongyang recently stopped serving foreign beers. Instead, customers are served Taedonggang Beer on tap.
This has not caused riots -- and not simply because the regime has zero tolerance for dissent. Taedonggang is based on a British beer called Ushers of Trowbridge, which dates back 190 years. In 2000, North Korea purchased the equipment from the Wiltshire brewery in Southwest England and rebuilt the production line in Pyongyang. "Kim Jong-ale," as foreigners call it, "is not bad," according to one diplomat in Pyongyang.
The ban on foreign beer is aimed at preventing precious foreign currency from leaving North Korea's borders. Kim wants all resources, even money to stock up on beverages, allocated to his missile program. According to South Korea's Chosun Ilbo, North Korea has launched 33 ballistic missiles during the four years of Kim's rule -- about twice as many as his father, Kim Jong Il, oversaw in 18 years. The cost of those 33 launches adds up to 120 billion won ($107 million), enough to feed the entire population for two months.
SLBMs are not just any missiles. For the U.S. military, they are one of three options for delivering nuclear weapons, alongside strategic bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. SLBMs trump the other two in terms of stealth.
"At present, there is no missile defense system that can protect against the SLBM," said Tetsuo Kotani, chief researcher at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, a think tank. "Unlike land-based ballistic missiles, where you can estimate the rough location and detect preparations for a launch, a submarine-launched missile can be fired from anywhere at sea, and it's too quick to capture the trajectory."
SLBMs pose an entirely new level of threat, Chosun Ilbo pointed out in an editorial the day after North Korea's "North Star" SLBM flew 500km before dropping into Japan's air defense identification zone. "North Korean submarines could sneak into South Korean waters and fire a missile that would render existing defenses useless," it said.