Renewed UN sanctions have not been able to break the deadlock on North Korea.
As Kim and Trump flirt with war, the tensions on the Korean peninsula are fuelling reactionary politics across the region, and live-fire American-South Korean military exercises and repeated North Korean missile launches and nuclear tests.
On 11 September, the UN rejected a harsher set of sanctions proposals from the US, instead adopting a ban on North Korean textile exports and capping oil sales to the country. While Trump has claimed that the oil cap is producing “long gas lines in North Korea”, commentators point out that the cap is unlikely to exert real pressure on the regime, given that China is continuing to guarantee an adequate supply of oil to meet state and military needs, in addition to large grain shipments. Only civilians will suffer.
China’s rulers are not enthusiastic about the Kim regime’s adventures, but they will continue to underwrite the regime.
Beijing is not prepared to countenance the collapse of the North Korean regime and the wave of refugees and instability that would come in its wake.
China and Russia have been lobbying for a reciprocal freeze on the North Korean nuclear programme and US-South Korean military exercises (while commencing naval exercises of their own), but Trump looks unlikely to take this up.
For Beijing, the existence of North Korea is an important chip in the broader regional game of rivalry with the US. As China continue to press its territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, the US, India and Japan announced on 19 September that they were to start co-operating on a joint project of port construction in the region — a move clearly aimed at hemming in Chinese expansion, hiking inter-imperialist rivalry in the region to a new level.
In South Korea, hundreds of peace protestors and trade unionists from the KCTU federation joined protests on 7 and 16 September against the installation of THAAD missile systems in the village of Soseong-ri. They were met by a violent response from thousands of riot police.
This has dashed hopes that the apparently liberal government of Moon Jae-in might mark a serious change from the string of right-wing, authoritarian administrations.
In Japan, the repeated North Korean missile launches over the country have given a new lease of life to the career of Shinzo Abe. Abe, whose approval ratings had fallen below 30% following corruption allegations earlier this year, is once again riding high in the polls.
The renewed surge of support for the right-wing nationalist Premier has revived his hopes of being able to revise Japan’s constitution, and permit Japan to develop its own armed forces: another step towards the spread of militarism and jingoism in the region, and a boost to Abe’s own reactionary project of rehabilitating the history of Imperial Japan and encouraging new generations of Japanese people to draw pride from its wartime atrocities.
Across the region, it is the labour movement and the left which is standing up for humanity and dignity, against the irresponsible game-playing of the big powers and the lowering cloud of nationalist madness and war.