North Korea's planned launch of what it calls a Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite on a space launcher, scheduled to take place between April 12 and 16 to mark the 100th anniversary of the late dictator Kim Il-sung's birth, has dramatically intensified the already volatile security environment in Northeast Asia, causing a crisis that threatens to bring war to the region.
The Pentagon is calling it a missile launch, and reactions from regional states are much stronger than for past incidents of Pyongyang's brinksmanship. The Japanese government is deploying three Aegis-equipped missile destroyers in waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula. Last week, the Japanese defense minister formally gave orders to the Japanese military to shoot down the launch rocket should it take place as planned.
On March 30, the Japanese naval ship Kirishima left its home port of Yokosuka for the East China Sea, loaded with SM-3 interceptor missiles ready to shoot down North Korea's rocket in outer space if it threatens to fall on Japanese airspace or territory. In addition, Japan's land-based Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile interceptors are being deployed in the next several days on Miyako Island in Okinawa.
On Sunday, Taiwan officially confirmed that its military ordered a higher alert status for its forces and that Taiwan had deployed the U.S.-made PAC-3s and the indigenous Sky Bow-III surface-to-air missiles to shoot down the North Korean rocket should it get near the island.
The United States issued stern warnings to Pyongyang not to proceed with the launch. Washington promptly withdrew offers of further food aid that was arranged shortly before North Korea's launch announcement last month.
President Obama made a personal visit to the demilitarized zone while in Seoul for the Nuclear Security Summit and pledged full support for Japan's decision to intercept the rocket.
China opposes the satellite launch in theory. But Beijing statements included far more vehementopposition to any strong military reactions by the United States, Japan and South Korea. China's official media sees a conspiracy behind Japan's decision to intercept the rocket, saying it is designed to boost the U.S. role in Northeast Asia security and for Japan to use the launch as an excuse to strengthen military capabilities in order to become a "big country." China considers Japan not yet a "big country" on the world stage.
In response, China hurriedly announced Friday that a joint, large-scale Chinese-Russian naval exercise involving more than 20 combat vessels would take place in the waters near the Korean Peninsula around the time of the planned satellite launch.
On Sunday, the official Beijing newspaper the Global Times published an editorial calling for China to quickly enhance its air and sea strength to upgrade its capabilities to deal with "serious incidents in Northeast Asia."
"As a big country, China needs to be responsible for Northeast Asia's security. But China cannot be tied up by such big country's responsibility," the editorial states, "China needs to develop stronger air and sea forces to increase its rapid response capabilities to beef up our strategic deterrence to any irrational developments in the Korean Peninsula."
TAIWAN REBUFFS CHINA'S TALKS REQUEST
Taiwan's Vice President-elect Wu Den-yih set three seemingly impossible conditions for Beijing and Taipei to hold immediate political talks about the future of the self-ruled democratic island that China has vowed to take back for more than six decades.
The three conditions Mr. Wu laid out Monday to reporters at the China-hosted Boao Asia Forum on the Chinese island of Hainan are sincerity and goodwill from both sides of the Taiwan Strait, national consensus and popular support in Taiwan.
The three conditions constitute an indirect rejection of China's increasingly eager demand for political negotiations.
China has never given up threats to use force to invade Taiwan, causing widespread distrust of China's motives. There has never been an agreement in Taiwan even close to a consensus on merging or being merged with communist China.
But the "popular support" condition is the most crucial one of the three because it would invalidate China's primary approach of using behind-the-scenes secret negotiations on sovereignty issues by political elites without resorting to democratic referendum.
An overwhelming majority of Taiwan voters oppose "unification" with China as well as outright independence, although Taipei enjoys de facto independent status.
"There is not a timetable in sight for top officials to conduct talks across the Strait," Mr. Wu said emphatically.
• Miles Yu's columns appear Thursdays. He can be reached at email@example.com.