Eight days after North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island, the US and South Korea have wrapped up their joint military exercises in the Yellow Sea. Seoul has announced more exercises near the border with the North.
Four were killed in last week's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island by North Korea
The US and South Korean navies ended a major show of strength on Wednesday that was intended to deter North Korea from repeating last week's deadly artillery bombardment.
It was the two allies' biggest-ever joint maneuver, with jet fighters thundering through the sky above a US carrier battle group.
But whether the exercises will have the intended impact is doubtful. South Korea's National Intelligence Service head Wen Sei-Hoon was quoted on Wednesday as telling a closed session of parliament that "the danger of further attacks from North Korea is high."
One reason is that the North Korean dictatorship has an intrinsic need for tension, explained Ruediger Frank from the University of Vienna. "Past experience tells us that the North Korean system is not only designed to deal with outside pressure but that it actually needs outside pressure for survival," he said.
"It is a fairly simple mechanism - if a country feels threatened, the population is much more willing to forego civil liberties or to accept economic shortcomings."
South Korea has announced a new round of war games next week
Part of ongoing succession game
He added that the inbuilt tendency to create tension might have gained momentum because of the current leadership succession.
Frank also explained that the chances were "high" that Kim Jong-un, the grandson of state founder Kim Il-sung and likely successor to the current "dear leader", was trying to create an "image – not just among the general population, but among the elites as well. They are asking themselves whether the new leadership is going to further their interests as they want."
So behaving like a "spoiled child" to gain attention, as Chinese diplomats have been quoted by WikiLeaks as saying, could be a survival technique.
China wants to help 'resolve' dispute
WikiLeaks' disclosures regarding the apparent willingness of the Chinese political establishment to ditch North Korea were sensational. Beijing has refused to comment on the revelations.
Regarding the conflict on the Korean peninsula meanwhile, China said on Wednesday that it did not favor either side but wanted to help "resolve" the dispute.
North Korean soldiers near the Military Demarcation Line in South Korea's Demilitarized Zone
So far, China has protected North Korea from censure by the UN Security Council for last week's deadly artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong and the Chinese foreign ministry has called for all parties involved in the crisis to avoid any action that could inflame the situation.
"China's main interest is to preserve stability and security," said Frank. "For economic reasons, too. Foreign investors don’t like to see firefights on the Korean peninsula. And the Chinese know that they have time on their side. In ten or 15 years' time, the Korean question will look totally different."
But for the time being, the tension is likely to remain high. According to the South Korean Yonhap news agency, Seoul is already planning another round of war games close to the disputed sea border. They are set to start next Monday.
Author: Matthias von Hein
Editor: Anne Thomas