Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Sanctions, Drills, Elections: Flashpoints on Korean Peninsula

  • North Korea may react angrily to new sanctions, U.S. drills
  • Kim eyes major party meeting in May; Park wary of April vote

Tensions have risen on the Korean peninsula after the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un conducted a long-range rocket launch and a fourth nuclear test.

Relations are likely to remain fraught -- South Korea last week shut a jointly run industrial park in North Korea -- as world leaders look for new ways to force Kim to drop his nuclear ambitions. Here are five events coming up to watch:

Harsher Sanctions

The United Nations Security Council is mulling a new round of sanctions after condemning North Korea for its Jan. 6 nuclear test and Feb 7. rocket launch. The U.S. Congress also passed a sanctions bill as the Obama administration seeks to step up pressure on Pyongyang. North Korea has previously responded to sanctions with threats of missile attacks against the U.S. and vows to bolster its nuclear arsenal.

QuickTake North Korea’s Nukes

Military Drills

South Korea plans to begin annual military drills with the U.S. in late February or early March, and will seek to send Pyongyang a message by making this year’s exercises the “largest" ever. North Korea has called the maneuvers a prelude to invasion, and has previously put its 1.2 million troops on a war footing and threatened to respond with a nuclear strike.

Nuclear Summit

The Nuclear Security Summit that begins in late March in Washington offers U.S. President Barack Obama, South Korean President Park Geun Hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a chance to coordinate efforts to rein in North Korea’s weapons program. The leaders met at the 2014 nuclear summit, and the trilateral framework was bolstered late last year, when Park and Abe agreed to resolve disputes over Japan’s wartime legacy that had limited cooperation between the two countries.

Parliamentary Elections

Park’s ruling Saenuri party will be tested in parliamentary elections in mid-April before her term is set to end after a presidential vote in late 2017. A victory could embolden her to get tougher on North Korea, while defeat may prompt her to seek dialogue with the Kim regime to please voters unhappy with tensions.

Workers’ Party

Kim has called the first congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea in more than 30 years. Tensions with South Korea could disrupt what analysts say is his goal of using the meeting in early May to enshrine the legacies of his father and mold the regime after his own ideals.