2018: What's next for Asia?

"Sunday Morning" begins the New Year with a look ahead based on events of the year gone by, reported by CBS News correspondents from around the world, including correspondent Ben Tracy, reporting from Beijing:

In China, the biggest story of 2017 will likely continue to be the biggest story of 2018, and that, of course, is the threat posed by North Korea.

After successfully testing more than 20 missiles this year, North Korea says it now has the ability to strike any city in the United States with a nuclear weapon. 

Kim Jong Un's regime may not have actually perfected the technology for its intercontinental ballistic missile, but the U.S. government concedes it could by the end of the new year.

"They're getting dangerously close to being able to achieve this capability," said Paul Haenle, a former member of the U.S. National Security Council and director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing.

Tracy asked, "When you look ahead to 2018, do you see this heading more towards military conflict or some sort of diplomatic resolution?"

"If you listen to the language coming out of the Trump Administration, you can see that they are potentially making a case for war," Haenle replied.

And the U.S. military is making sure they are ready to fight one, continuing to stage large-scale military exercises in Asia that infuriate North Korea.

Tracy flew with the U.S. Air Force in Japan during a training exercise:

Tracy asked, "Given the rising tensions, do these exercises feel more important?"

"They do," replied Maj. Richard Smeeding, who goes by the call sign "Punch."  "It's definitely a game-changer now that we have nuclear weapons involved that can reach America."

kim-jong-un-missile-launch-japan2.jpg

A photograph broadcast by North Korean state television on Aug. 29, 2017, shows Kim Jong Un purportedly watching the launch of a Hwasong-12 ballistic missile from a site near Pyongyang. 

Reuters/KRT

Those weapons can also easily reach South Korea, which is hosting the Winter Olympics in February, just 40 miles from the border with the North. The hope is that tensions won't overshadow the Games, but security drills are already underway to protect athletes and fans from any potential threat.

And then there's China, where President Xi Jinping is now the most powerful Chinese leader since Chairman Mao. He's building up China's military, and expanding his country's influence by forming new partnerships in Asia, and taking a leadership role on issues such as climate change.

China rolled out the red carpet for President Trump last month, but that relationship may quickly sour over unresolved trade issues.

"There's a sense that the economic and trade relationship is not fair enough, it's not reciprocal enough," said Haenle. "I see darker clouds ahead on the U.S.-China relationship."

But the darkest cloud still looms over North Korea, where in 2018 a young dictator may decide whether there is war or peace.

    
See also: