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Monday, September 13, 1999 Published at 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Analysis: The trouble with North Korea

On alert: The South Korean navy experienced clashes in June

Since the collapse of Communism around the world, North Korea has been short of friends and money and it has become increasingly threatening.

China, the North's neighbour and ally in the Korean War, has turned away from socialist economics and it sometimes seems impatient with North Korea's rigid Stalinism and refusal to change with the times.

But, China, like South Korea, does not want to see North Korea collapse, because that could mean hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming across the border, destabilising the region.

Nevertheless, some analysts in Seoul feel China has set a bad example by recently test-firing a ballistic missile and it has quietly defended North Korea's right to launch rockets too.

Washington worries that soon North Korea may be able to reach the mainland of the United States with its Taepo-Dong II missile which could be tipped with chemical, biological or even crude nuclear weapons. Nobody is sure.

Furthermore, the United States treats North Korea as a terrorist state, for selling missile technology to other rogue nations.

In 1994, North Korea had to be bribed to abandon its plutonium producing nuclear programme in return for two safer light water reactors. That programme has now stalled.

Carrot and stick

Over the last year, North Korea has faced a carrot and stick strategy from South Korea the US and Japan.

[ image: North Korean army: Seen as a regional threat]
North Korean army: Seen as a regional threat
Seoul has pushed what it describes as a "sunshine policy" of conciliation with the North, encouraging trade and tourist trips to the North.

In exchange, Pyongyang has hoped to gain increased food aid to help deal with its devastating famine.

At the same time, Japan and the US have sought to pile pressure on Pyongyang.

In July, the US, Japan and South Korea warned North Korea that it would face "serious consequences" if it were to go ahead with a missile test.

While the US Defence Secretary William Cohen warned that the US and its allies would mobilise "all available means" against a test firing, the three nations also urged the North Korean government to end its isolation.

The Berlin talks, which appear to have led to the first stage of a comprehensive deal, began after President Bill Clinton's North Korea policy co-ordinator William Perry visited the country in May.

In his report, he proposed to North Korea that it should abandon its weapons programmes in exchange for expanded economic and diplomatic contacts.

Retaliation fears

But despite high hopes for direct North-South talks in June, the meeting broke down after naval clashes, the first since the 1953 ceasefire.

Diplomats are weary that appeasement in the past seems only to have emboldened North Korea, options for punishment are limited and sanctions might make it feel cornered and liable to strike out.

A Kosovo-style campaign could bring devastating retaliation on South Korea, Japan and possibly the US.

Fifty years on from the Korean War, a stable and lasting peace is still a long way off.

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