‘An outright military provocation and an open declaration of war against us.’ That, at least, is how North Korea’s state-controlled media saw last week’s Proliferation Security Initiative military exercise between Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.
Pyongyang has made no secret of its disdain for the initiative, especially with South Korea hosting the exercises for the first time on October 13-14 off the south-eastern port of Busan. Seoul’s decision to host the exercises, this time dubbed Eastern Endeavor 10, was announced in May after its investigators concluded that North Korea had torpedoed the Cheonan warship two months earlier, killing dozens of sailors. Pyongyang has, of course, denied having done any such thing, but South Korea’s position is backed by the other three participants in last week’s activities.
The PSI is a voluntary multinational coalition, and was established to tackle the illegal transfer of all weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their means of delivery (e.g. ballistic missiles) and related issues. The four states participating last week are among its strongest advocates, but there’s been broad support for it around Asia. Singapore and New Zealand, for example, have both joined in previous military exercises, while India, Indonesia and Malaysia have said they support the PSI’s general principles, but haven’t joined the PSI as formal participants due to legal and other considerations. Even landlocked Mongolia signed a ship boarding agreement with the United States in 2007. (Although Mongolia is by no means a major maritime power, its commitment signals its government’s interest in deepening security ties with Washington to balance its more powerful neighbours).Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Yet while the initiative has been broadly popular in the region (and has given South Korea’s allies an opportunity to show some solidarity in the wake of the Cheonan incident) it has left some regional powers cold.
The North Koreans, needless to say, hate the PSI because they’ve been its main target. However, China also opposes the PSI, partly because it annoys their North Korean neighbour, but also because Chinese entities themselves are often accused of exporting proliferation-sensitive technologies to countries whose governments have aspirations to acquiring WMD.
What was perhaps most interesting about the latest exercise was that it saw Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force and the South Korean Navy simulate their first joint interception so close to their home waters (their previous involvement in multinational exercises has been in the RIMPAC series, held off the coast of Hawaii).