How North Korea's neighbors are covering Pyongyang's belligerence

What are North Korea's Asian neighbors saying about the escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula? Here's a brief look at some of the press coverage in the region that should give you a flavor of how China, Japan, and South Korea are analyzing the standoff. (For China, I considered a combination of Chinese- and English-language news sources; for Japan and South Korea, I was only able to read English-language news.)

Chinese coverage is less critical than coverage in other country about the role Pyongyang and Beijing have played in the tensions, but also surprisingly pessimistic about the possibility for all parties to reach a resolution. An article originally posted earlier this month in Global Times, a tabloid known for its nationalistic views, argues that "the North Korea nuclear situation is almost out of control," and that North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons. While the world "obviously won't turn around and give North Korea nuclear power status," a more realistic goal is to prevent Pyongyang from conducting another nuclear test, the paper reasons.

The Global Times story also cautions that South Korea is increasingly becoming North Korea's "hostage," and that this won't change even if Seoul develops nuclear weapons. 

South Korean news outlets, for their part, are focused on the country's readiness to face a North Korean attack. The English-language website of Chosun Ilbo, a major South Korean newspaper, published an editorial on Friday entitled, "The Military Must Pull Itself Together," which relates how a defector in a fishing boat was "astonishingly" able to return to North Korea by crossing "the heavily armed sea border undetected at a time when North Korea threatens nuclear attacks on a daily basis."

A Friday editorial in the Korea Times, an English-language newspaper, emphasized the importance of strengthening the National Intelligence Service, South Korea's intelligence agency "in the face of mounting threats from North Korea."

Of the three countries, Japan seems least worried about the possibility of an attack -- perhaps because North Korea flings most of its invective at South Korea and the United States (though an editorial in the Japan Times, an English-language newspaper, points out that North Korea has threatened to launch nuclear missile attacks on "three areas in Japan hosting U.S. military bases"). On April 2, the day North Korea said it would restart its plutonium reactor in Yongbyon, an analysis in Asahi Shimbun, a major Japanese newspaper, argued that North Korea is the "the one that appears most worried about triggering a war in Northeast Asia." An April 4 editorial in the same paper expressed more concern about the possibility of a nuclear accident -- and "radioactive contamination in South Korea" -- than about Pyongyang actually using a nuclear weapon.

Especially for China, which hosts thousands of North Koreans and Pyongyang's largest trading partner,  there are plenty of domestic angles to explore as well. On its Sina Weibo account, CCTV News, part of China's state broadcaster, posted a story about a brand of mineral water from North Korea selling in supermarkets in the Chinese city of Qingdao for $1.60 a bottle. An article about the product posted in Xinhua expresses befuddlement that there is high-end North Korean mineral water ($1.60 is expensive in China) and that it even contains a QR code.


All those oil and gas deposits everyone wants in the South China Sea may not even be there

As it stands, six countries claim conflicting territorial rights in the long-simmering South China Sea dispute. As anyone will tell you, one of the main drivers of this conflict is the "sizable deposits of oil and gas" believed to reside in the area. But what if that's actually a lie? A new report by the U.S. Energy and Information Administration finds that the contested areas of the South China Sea do not have large conventional oil and natural gas resources:

The Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands are two of the most contested areas (see dark blue islands on map above). However, unlike other parts of the South China Sea, these areas have not been assessed to hold large (conventional) resources of oil and natural gas....

EIA's analysis shows that most fields containing discovered oil and natural gas are clustered in uncontested parts of the South China Sea, close to shorelines of the coastal countries, and not near the contested islands. Industry sources suggest almost no oil and less than 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas in proved and probable reserves exist in fields near the Spratly Islands. The Paracel Island territory has even less natural gas and no oil.

Below is an EIA map of proved and probable oil and gas reserves in the area:

So maybe going to war over the disputed islands isn't such a great idea? Worth considering.