Khama rebukes China over North Korea Missile Tests

Yesterday the Government of Botswana (GoB) escalated its already tense relations with China to new levels by supporting the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea in the wake of North Korea’s latest show of defiance against the United States and international condemnation, The Botswana Gazette reports.

On Friday 28th July, North Korea tested its latest Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). David Wright, the co-director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, estimates that the range of the missile to be 10,400 kilometres, placing almost the entire United States within its range.

In what international political analysts call an “inexperienced” statement of condemnation against the North Korean show of force, the (GoB) has stepped into a much greater political quagmire by stating that “there is no doubt that North Korea is receiving external assistance to develop this technology, which poses a major threat to international peace and security”. The elusive North Korean government has known diplomatic links with three nuclear powers, China, Russia and Pakistan. The GoB statement indirectly accuses the three countries of either individually or jointly providing assistance to North Korea; as the three countries are the only ones with the technological expertise to provide the knowhow to assist North Korea to create ICBMs.

Internationally no other government has indicated that North Korea is receiving “external assistance” in its weapons development program. The Peoples Republic of China has condemned the latest ICBM missile testing indicating that it intensifies tensions in the region and jeopardises stability in the Northeast Asia region.

Russia has previously disputed the US and Japanese intelligence classification of the North Korean missiles, classifying the missiles as “medium-range” weapons, not ICBMs. However, in a joint condemnation of North Korea’s earlier missile test in early July, Russia and China called for a freeze on North Korean nuclear and missile tests as well as a cessation of military exercises by the United States and South Korea.

Following the July 4 missile launch, China and Russia issued a joint statement after a meeting between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping on July 5. The two countries condemned Pyongyang’s missile test as “unacceptable” and urged against “any statements or actions that could lead to an increase in tensions”.

“The two sides propose that the DPRK (North Korea) as a voluntary political decision declares a moratorium on testing nuclear explosive devices and ballistic rocket launches, and the US and South Korea refrain from carrying out large-scale joint exercises,” the two countries’ foreign ministries said in the joint statement.

For its part Pakistan has called upon North Korea to cease any actions that would undermine the prospects of regional peace and stability.

In a statement by the Pakistani foreign office, its government announced that the country has supported a nuclear weapons free Korean Peninsula, as agreed by all parties. It called upon North Korea to refrain from actions which run counter to the objective of reaching a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the issue within the framework of the Six Party Talks.

Pakistan, in January this year, successfully test-fired a surface-to-surface ballistic missile for the first time. The weapon named Ababeel, with a range of 2,200km (1,367 miles) is capable of carrying “multiple warheads”, a government statement at the time advised adding that “Ababeel is capable of carrying nuclear warheads and has the capability to engage multiple targets with high precision, defeating the enemy’s hostile radars.” GoB has issued no statement in respect of Pakistan ballistic testing.

The GoB statement in addition to its condemnation of North Korean use of ICBMs goes further in its “support for the American Anti-Missile Defence system in South Korea and elsewhere in the region as a counter measure for any future missile strikes”. The Anti-Missile System known as THAAD, has been hugely controversial in South Korea. The surrounding corruption scandals related to the US$1 Billion deal contributed to the recent electoral victory of South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, who openly opposed the system and promised closer diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.

“The GoB statement goes against the platform of Moon Jae-in’s democratic election and against the will of the South Korean citizens who have openly protested the THAAD system, it is not the place of Botswana to comment on South Korean policy issues, though the GoB may critique North Korea without delving into South Korean and regional politics” an international political analyst argues.

Following the North Korean ICBM missile launch on Friday, the South Korean Defence Minister, Song Young-moo said Seoul would prepare independent measures to curb the North’s nuclear threat should diplomatic solutions fail, “Along with joint efforts to deter proliferation we will prepare independent measures to curb it as soon as possible,” Song told a press conference in Seoul.

Both Beijing and Moscow have spoken against “non-regional powers’ military presence in Northeast Asia under the pretext of countering North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.  China and Russia have opposed the American THAAD missile defence systems in the region, stating that its deployment “seriously damages strategic security interests of regional powers, including Russia and China” and hinders peace and stability.

The GoB statement and support for THAAD is an international slap in the face to China. Botswana has become increasingly hostile to China by openly condemning China over South China Sea claims and the Dalai Lama.

Botswana broke off diplomatic ties with North Korea in 2014, after suspending bilateral cooperation the previous year, over alleged human rights violations.