North Korea’s failed missile test on March 22 followed on the heels of four test firing of missiles, three of which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. These triggered sharp and diverging commentary from rising powers in the region.

SOUTH KOREA

There was a variety of responses from South Korean officials. South Korea’s National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun reportedly “called for reopening dialogue with North Korea to stop its provocations,” and said “sanctions alone can neither solve the nuclear issue nor make the situation any better.” The Speaker continued, “it is important to acknowledge North Korean leader Kim Jung-un as a negotiation partner.” South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se in turn affirmed that Seoul and Washington are on the same page with regard to North Korea’s provocations.

There was also extensive and nuanced commentary from South Korean newspapers. Many called for international cooperation and emphasized the need for South Korea to step up its role.

  • An editorial in The Hankyoreh, a liberal leaning newspaper, said, “Unless South Korea, the US, and China can find common ground on their North Korea policy sometime soon, the nuclear issue is only to get worse, and the security framework in Northeast Asia more uncertain.” The commentator added, “Seoul must steer other countries toward a resolution to North Korea nuclear issue.”
  • The Kyunghyang Shinmun, another liberal leaning paper, thought “A preemptive strike on North Korea can lead to an all-out war.” Therefore, the South Korean government “should also remind the U.S. that a North Korea policy that goes against the views of South Korea, particularly a preemptive strike on the North as a preventive measure is unacceptable.”
  • At least one commentator thought that it was “time to engage North Korea.”

Some commentators expressed disappointment and even dismay in South Korea’s handling of the North Korean threat.

While there was unanimous agreement regarding the importance of China as a major player, some worried that China might be a spoiler.

Some commented on the role of the US and Trump administration as well.

  •  A commentator from The Korea Times opined, “The US should realize that what is driving the North Korean nuclear effort is precisely fear of a military attack. Threatening such an attack is unlikely to cause Pyongyang to abandon its efforts but rather have the opposite effect.”
  • An editorial in The Korea Herald was optimistic that the Trump administration will address the North Korean problems with utmost seriousness. Although the commentator noted that President Trump has not laid out concrete plans for his administration’s future course of action, Trump calling the North “a big, big problem” and a “really, really important” subject, and saying that he would deal with it “very strongly” and missile threat is “a very, very high priority” for him seemed to have convinced the commentator, as he stated, “these expressions are strong enough to make one believe that the Trump administration will be proactive.”

JAPAN

North Korea’s missile tests have hit Japan particularly hard. According to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s advisor, the Prime Minister “plans to bolster Japan’s capabilities to counter increased threats from North Korea.” There were also reports of other Japanese politicians expressing a desire for the ability to better protect Japan.

Japanese media voiced multiple concerns.

  • According to an editorial in The Mainichi, a liberal leaning and third ranked daily circulation in Japan, “the [North Korean] launch may be a noisy protest against joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea that began on March 1.” But it thinks that such a reaction can backfire for North Korea because it may lead the Trump administration to alter the American policy of “strategic patience” toward North Korea, and bring “a dark cloud over North Korea’s relations with Southeast Asia, a region with many countries hitherto friendly to the isolated nation.” The newspaper also noted that “the launch is likely to have left Beijing incensed,” especially since “the launch took place during the National People’s Congress, an important political event in China, and accordingly caused China to lose face.”
  • A Kyodo News commentator expressed pessimism regarding maintenance of peace and stability in northeast Asia. It stated, “North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile capabilities are already an existential threat to South Korea and Japan and will soon be a direct threat to the continental United States. Washington should make unambiguously clear that it will deter, defend and if necessary defeat the North Korean military threat to ourselves and our allies.”
  • Nikkei Asian Review, a conservative, center-right business paper, published an opinion piece titled “Trump’s North Korea credibility crisis.” The commentator argued that despite Trump’s tough talk on North Korea, if Trump were to launch a preemptive strike against North Korea, “he would need to convince the American people, and the world, that U.S. intelligence about the North’s nuclear capabilities was solid, that a threat from Pyongyang was imminent, that all other non-military options were exhausted, and that he had a plan for success.” However, given the credibility gap Trump currently faces, the commentator was not convinced that Trump’s tough talk would have much impact on North Korean behavior.

CHINA

North Korea’s recent provocative actions seems to have gone too far even for China as Beijing announced in February a ban on all coal imports from North Korea until the end of the year. Commentators say that such action shows “Beijing’s resolve to implement UN Security Council resolutions punishing North Korea over its nuclear program.” Alongside expressing an intention to comply with the UNSC resolutions, China has reportedly “implemented high trade barriers against [South] Korean companies, virtually banned Chinese tour agencies from offering group tours to Korea, and restricted Korean cultural content” in retaliation for THAAD deployment. However, “the Chinese government officially denies that it is employing any retaliation.”

Regarding the recent North Korean missile launches, several Chinese commentators blamed the US for the provocation.

Global Times featured many editorials which debated what the role of China is in dealing with and taming North Korea.

RUSSIA

It was noted that “Russia’s delegation to the U.N. reported Moscow is fulfilling its obligations under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2321,” which is aimed at North Korea. TASS reported that after talking with Japanese foreign and defense ministers, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said “We are unanimous with our Japanese partners that North Korea should rigorously comply with all UN Security Council resolutions…We believe that the UN sanctions imposed on Pyongyang should be seen not as a punishment tool but as an incentive to bring the situation back to the political and negotiation track.”

Nationalist media urged caution in dealing with North Korea.

BRAZIL

There has been little official reaction to North Korea’s missile tests since the foreign ministry’s denunciation of the North Korean missile and nuclear weapons programs in September of 2016. The foreign ministry stated that the North Korean nuclear weapon program was “unacceptable” and that as a “firm defender of a nuclear free world, Brazil condemns attitudes that violate the pertinent resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and increase tensions on the Korean peninsula.”

More recent media stories have reported on worldwide reactions to the recent ballistic missiles launches by North Korea.

  • Globo reported on the North Korean launch of four missile tests in the direction of Japan and noted the international outrage. It also reported that while China condemned the launch, Beijing also pointed out that U.S. and South Korean military forces were conducting exercises in the region.
  • The Journal do Brasil reported on the United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent trip to Seoul where he stated that the U.S. “strategic patience” had run out and called for the complete denuclearization of North Korea. He also defended the deployment of the U.S. anti-missile defense system, THAAD, in South Korea despite Chinese opposition.