By Ray Fleming LAST week former US Secretary of State Colin Powell had to issue a statement insisting “I am still a Republican” after right wing Republicans had criticised his stance on a number of issues. Strange as it may seem, the current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, is also a Republican though he is serving in a Democratic administration. Mr Gates has no need to signal where he is coming from because his language -- “we will not stand idly by” and “President Obama offered an open hand to tyrannies” -- does the job for him. He used these phrases and others like them when speaking in Hong Kong about the latest threats from North Korea. His key statement -- that the United States would not accept North Korea as “a nuclear weapons state” was questioned at a press conference by a journalist who said that surely it is already “a de facto nuclear state”. Mr Gates did not respond directly but his words were probably intended to give some general reassurance to South Korea and Japan which would be the most likely targets of any North Korean military action. The opinion of those who can understand anything about North Korea is that the current fuss has more to do with internal power pressures than any serious intention to wage war on anyone. It is to be hoped, though, that whatever action the United States may have in mind should be fully coordinated with China whose interest in this area is paramount.