Trump’s N. Korea tactics may succeed, but require prudence

By Shin Hyon-hee, The Korea Herald/ANN

SEOUL — To many, for the past 10 days the Korean Peninsula appeared to have been edging toward the brink of war.

Soon after bombarding Syria and Afghanistan with missiles and a gigantic bomb, the U.S. said it had ordered its flagship aircraft carrier strike group, which was already here last month for a joint drill with the South Korean military, to head back toward the peninsula.

The announcement triggered a frenzied chain reaction throughout the region. As President Donald Trump and other top Washington officials hinted at possible military action, North Korea hit back with a string of threats of a pre-emptive strike and even nuclear war. China, which had just wrapped up a summit with the U.S., was seen scrambling to dissuade Pyongyang from testing a nuclear device or an intercontinental ballistic missile for the April 15 birthday of late founding father Kim Il Sung. Japan has even issued a travel advisory for South Korea and convened a National Security Council meeting to discuss plans to evacuate its some 60,000 nationals residing here. The world was then rattled by the revelation that the USS Carl Vinson was not returning to waters off the peninsula, or at least when the U.S. said it was. While the aircraft carrier sailed in the opposite direction and took part in a training in Australia as planned, Trump administration officials failed to correct the prevalent reports on its rerouting, calling it a “prudent” step in light of urgent threats of North Korea. From Trump himself to National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to Secretary of Defense James Mattis to White House press secretary Sean Spicer, they delivered the same, misleading message.

Some may believe it was a deliberately choreographed misrepresentation. Others speculate the “armada” had been meant to change course, but then Washington decided to delay the timing to buy time for China after Trump’s phone call with President Xi Jinping on April 11. Or else, it was plainly a result of miscommunication, as CNN reported, citing a senior administration official who blamed on the White House’s “lack of follow-up with commanders” over the aircraft carrier’s movements.

But the series of developments and ensuing tension have stoked jitters among not only ordinary South Koreans but also Seoul officials. Ahead of a May 9 presidential election, debate heated up over a possible U.S. pre-emptive attack against the North, with leading candidates warning against any unilateral action.