What are the chances of a peaceful resolution between US and North Korea? Is a war really imminent? How do people in South Korea and Japan feel about the situation?
As tensions between North Korea and the US continue to escalate, CNN hosted a live chat on the messaging app LINE. More than 100,000 people tuned in to have their most pressing questions answered by four CNN reporters:
- Alexandra Field in Seoul
- Sherisse Pham in Tokyo
- Steven Jiang in Beijing
- Brad Lendon in Hong Kong
Can you give us a brief background on the latest in North Korea?
BRAD: North Korea has been rapidly improving its missile program and in July tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) with what analyses showed to be the range to hit the mainland United States. North Korea also possesses nuclear warheads. While we don’t know if they can successfully mount a nuclear warheads on one of their ICBMs now, they are certainly closing in on that goal.
US President Donald Trump has said this would be an unacceptable situation for US security. The US has responded to North Korean missile tests and threats by putting on military shows of force of its own, including flying B-1 bombers over the Korean Peninsula.
In the past few days, the threats and rhetoric between Trump and North Korea have been heating up. Earlier this week, Trump warned that North Korea would “face fire and fury like the world has never seen” if Pyongyang keeps threatening the US. In response, North Korea said it is “seriously examining a plan” to launch a missile strike targeting an area near the US territory of Guam.
As the closest countries to North Korea, what’s the mood like in South Korea, Japan and China?
ALEXANDRA: People in South Korea have been living under threats from North Korea for decades. 35 miles from the city of Seoul, North Korea has a range of weapons along the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) that could do devastating damage and cost thousands of lives.
They’re used to bellicose rhetoric from the North Korean regime and they tend to take it in stride. But, there’s a clear sense that North Korea has made advancements that would allow the regime to threaten not just regional security but global security and that heightens risks all around.
As the US engages in a war of words with North Korea, officials in Seoul are looking for a peaceful resolution for the tension. One official from the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential office, says he doesn’t think a crisis is imminent but he says it’s true that North Korean provocations have made the situation on the peninsula very serious.
Recently, the South Korean president has been backing measures to increase the country’s defenses. To achieve that, he’s seeking cooperation from South Korea’s ally, the United States. It was a big topic of a recent phone call between the two presidents last week and it was a matter discussed with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he visited the region earlier this week.
One of the first steps South Korea is taking is to revise its missile agreement with the US. The government here wants to increase the payload its missiles are currently allowed to carry. The goal here is defense and deterrence.
SHERISSE: There is a growing sense of discomfort here in Japan about the threat posed by North Korea. This war of words between the US and North Korea comes at a very sensitive time for the country.
This week marks the 72nd anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A ceremony to commemorate the bombing of Nagasaki happened just yesterday – and it was a strong reminder that Japan is the only country to have suffered atomic attacks.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at that ceremony that it is Japan’s duty to work ceaselessly in pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons. There’s a strong pacifist vein that runs through the public here, people on the streets of Tokyo telling CNN that they don’t want war and there must be another way to deal with North Korea.
STEVEN: The Chinese public appears divided on the issue and many say their government feels stuck between a rock and a hard place. Since all media outlets are state-controlled, news coverage on this issue – though extensive – usually toe the government line by criticizing North Korea for its behavior while also highlighting Pyongyang’s legitimate security concern.
There are many critical or derisive voices online on Pyongyang’s fiery words and belligerent actions. But there are also plenty of Chinese commenters online who are supportive or even elated to see Pyongyang “stand up to the world’s No. 1 bully,” namely the US, as many Chinese feel the US is also trying to contain a rising China on the global stage.
As North Korea’s only global ally, Beijing provides Pyongyang with an economic lifeline. While it certainly doesn’t want to see a nuclear North bring instability its backyard, China still views the North as a strategic buffer between itself and South Korea, where the US maintains a large military presence.
Beijing also fears a massive refugee crisis on its doorstep if the Pyongyang regime collapses. That’s why some analysts say, between a nuclear North Korea (something people increasingly accept) and a collapsed one, Beijing might prefer the former.
The United Nations Security Council recently imposed sanctions on North Korea. What does this mean for Pyongyang?
ALEXANDRA: If fully enforced, the sanctions would largely target the revenue generated by North Korea’s biggest exports - iron, coal, seafood to name a few. It’s estimated they’d see the $3 billion revenue generated by those exports slashed by about a billion dollars.
The goal of sanctions is to cut of the resources that help fund illicit activities inside North Korea. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the sanctions should lead North Korea to choose a better path by relinquishing its nuclear weapons program.
But Kim Jong Un has made it clear that he’s not willing to negotiate on the weapons program. He sees it as central to the survival of his regime – an essential deterrent that protects North Korea against an attack.
While sanctions could successfully reduce revenue flowing into North Korea, they don’t mean that the prized nuclear program would necessarily be impacted.
North Korea has demonstrated tremendous strides forward with the development of their nuclear weapons and missiles. Some experts say the sanctions are too little too late anyway.
North Korea threatened a missile strike on Guam. Why Guam?
BRAD: Guam is the closest US territory to North Korea. It is also home to Andersen Air Force Base, from which the US has been launching show of force B-1 bomber missions over the Korean Peninsula.
The US regularly rotates its heavy bombers through Guam in what the Air Force calls the Continuous Bomber Presence. B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers have all been through Andersen AFB as part of this plan.
SHERISSE: Threatening Guam also puts hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens at risk. More than 750,000 Japanese tourists visited the US territory last year, more than half of all the visitors of the island. Guam is just a short plane ride from Tokyo.
STEVEN: Guam, incidentally, is also becoming popular with Chinese tourists. It’s the closest US territory to mainland China, giving Chinese tourists a taste of America relatively close home. United Airlines flies several times a week from Shanghai to Guam.
My name is Joey and I am a citizen in Ohio. I want to know what precautions our family should take if a strike occurred in the US or in the process of the strikes to protect ourselves?
BRAD: The likelihood of a strike in the US is very unlikely. While experts believe North Korea is making progress in their nuclear missile program, we still don’t know for certain if they are even capable, at the moment, of putting a warhead on a missile that could hit the US mainland. Experts do believe they do not have a lot of warheads, so it’s hard to say what the chances are of them hitting any one spot on the US mainland.
What are the chances of a peaceful resolution between US and North Korea? Is a war really imminent?
BRAD: It is unlikely war is imminent. US military action against North Korea would require a lot of buildup, experts say, and to this point we haven’t seen signs of that buildup. While North Korea has provoked South Korea in the past like sinking one of its smaller warships or shelling South Korean islands, the response of South Korea and the US has been restraint and even those incidents have not sparked a war.
Experts also say Kim Jong Un is most interested in staying in power. If he provokes the US into an all-out war, he will lose, the experts say, and therefore lose control of his country.
STEVEN: Chinese analysts, echoing many others, don’t think either North Korea or the US wants to start a war at this point. But they do see rising risks of an “accidental” war if either side miscalculates in the environment of heated rhetoric. They say that’s a big concern for Beijing.
They also see some of North Korea’s strong recent words/actions as a sign of displeasure over China, especially after it voted for the latest UN sanctions on North Korea. Experts say these new sanctions will hurt North Korea economically more and the strict wording in the new resolution gives China little choice to be “flexible” in implementing it.
What are the things we should be watching for in the news over the course of the coming weeks?
BRAD: The experts say we should watch for US military movements of ships and planes. Any US action against North Korea would require weeks of buildup, bringing more military hardware and troops to the region. We should also see if North Korea tests another nuclear warhead. If they do, that would REALLY ramp us tensions.
STEVEN: I think we should be watching if Trump follows up his words with actions… the red line he drew in the sand is just an impossible one as North Korea is bound to make more threats against the US.
That’s why many experts here say Beijing increasingly realizes the US’ lack of a coherent strategy on North Korea, which in their minds also explains the “intuitive” or “automatic” finger-pointing at Beijing for not doing enough. They’re frustrated by it - stressing there simply isn’t “more” they can do.
SHERISSE: Japan has increased the official warning on North Korea, saying this week that the threat level has entered a “new stage.” Some things to watch for coming out of Japan in coming weeks is if the defense minister and other government officials start renewing calls to beef up Japan’s self defense forces so that they would be capable of launching a preemptive strike in the event of an imminent attack.
That would be a huge departure from current policy – Japan has maintained a pacifist posture since the end of World War II.
ALEXANDRA: Every year the US and South Korean forces participate in joint military drills that typically happen in March and at the end of August. Pyongyang objects to these drills. They see the training exercises as preparation for an invasion. This can make for tense times on the peninsula. Back in March, Pyongyang reacted strongly to the exercises and test launched missiles as a response to what they consider annual provocations.