Tag Archives: Pyongyang

North Korea seen readying for fourth nuclear test

(Reuters) – Activity in North Korea appears to show it is preparing for a fourth nuclear test, with movement at its atomic test site similar to events preceding earlier blasts, a newspaper reported on Monday, quoting a senior South Korean government official.

North Korea has intensified warnings in recent weeks, declaring it had entered a state of war with Seoul, threatening to strike U.S. targets and blocking access to a border factory complex jointly run with the South.

“There are recent active movements of manpower and vehicles at the southern tunnel at Punggye-ri,” South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper quoted an unidentified government official as saying. The official was referring to North Korea’s nuclear test site.

“We are monitoring because the situation is similar to behavior seen prior to the third nuclear test,” the official was quoted as saying. It was unclear, the official told the newspaper, whether the activities were intended to mislead U.S. surveillance.

The North’s February 12 nuclear test prompted tougher U.N. sanctions and triggered a hostile response from Pyongyang.

South Korea’s defense minister told lawmakers in February, after the third nuclear test, that an additional test was possible.

Pyongyang moved what appeared to be a mid-range Musudan missile to its east coast, according to media reports last week.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Jack Kim; Editing by Ron Popeski and Dean Yates)

China should abandon North Korea

The best way is to take the initiative to facilitate unification with South Korea, says Deng Yuwen

North Korea’s third nuclear test is a good moment for China to re-evaluate its longstanding alliance with the Kim dynasty. For several reasons, Beijing should give up on Pyongyang and press for the reunification of the Korean peninsula.

First, a relationship between states based on ideology is dangerous. If we were to choose our allies on ideology alone, China’s relationship with the west today would not exist. Although both countries are socialist, their differences are much larger than those between China and the west.

Second, basing China’s strategic security on North Korea’s value as a geopolitical ally is outdated. Even if North Korea was a useful friend during the cold war, its usefulness today is doubtful. Just imagine if the US, because of Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons, came to see North Korea as a grave threat to its national security and launched a pre-emptive attack on it. Would China not be obliged to help North Korea based on our “alliance”? Would that not be drawing fire upon ourselves? If so, what useful “buffer” would be left to speak of? China’s own strength and openness will be its most reliable safeguard.

Third, North Korea will not reform and open up to the world. The international community once hoped that Kim Jong-eun would push reforms after taking power in 2011, and North Korea seemed to show signs of such a move. But even if he personally had the will to push small-scale reform, the country’s ruling group would absolutely not allow him to do so. Once the door of reform opened, the regime could be overthrown. Why should China maintain relations with a regime and a country that will face failure sooner or later?

Fourth, North Korea is pulling away from Beijing. The Chinese like to view their relationship with Pyongyang through their shared sacrifice during the Korean war instead of reality. They describe it as a “friendship sealed in blood”. But North Korea does not feel like this at all towards its neighbour.

As early as the 1960s, North Korea rewrote the history of the war. To establish the absolute authority of Kim Il-sung, its founder, North Korea removed from historical record the contribution of the hundreds of thousands of sons and daughters of China who sacrificed themselves to beat the UN troops back to the 38th parallel that now divides the peninsula. Many cemeteries commemorating the volunteer soldier heroes have been levelled, and Kim Il-sung was given all the credit for the offensive. For the North Korean people, shaking off the “Chinese bond” was seen as an expression of independence and autonomy.

Last, once North Korea has nuclear weapons, it cannot be ruled out that the capricious Kim regime will engage in nuclear blackmail against China. According to Xue Litai of Stanford University, during former US president Bill Clinton’s 2009 visit to Pyongyang, the North Koreans blamed the poverty of their economy on China’s “selfish” strategy and American sanctions. Kim Jong-il, then leader, hinted that the motive for withdrawing from six-party talks on his country’s arms programme was to free Pyongyang from Beijing. It was not directed against the US. He suggested that if Washington held out a helping hand, North Korea could become its strongest fortress against China. And Pyongyang revealed it could use a nuclear arsenal to coerce China.

North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons is, in part, based on the illusion that it can achieve an equal negotiating position with the US, and thereby force Washington to compromise. But it is entirely possible that a nuclear-armed North Korea could try to twist China’s arm if Beijing were to fail to meet its demands or if the US were to signal goodwill towards it.

Considering these arguments, China should consider abandoning North Korea. The best way of giving up on Pyongyang is to take the initiative to facilitate North Korea’s unification with South Korea. Bringing about the peninsula’s unification would help undermine the strategic alliance between Washington, Tokyo and Seoul; ease the geopolitical pressure on China from northeast Asia; and be helpful to the resolution of the Taiwan question.

The next best thing would be to use China’s influence to cultivate a pro-Beijing government in North Korea, to give it security assurances, push it to give up nuclear weapons and start moving towards the development path of a normal country.

The writer is deputy editor of Study Times, the journal of the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China

Iran and North Korea: The Nuclear Connection

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over an urgent operation meeting on the Korean People’s Army Strategic Rocket Force’s performance of duty for firepower strike at the Supreme Command in Pyongyang, March 29, 2013, in this picture released by the North’s official KCNA news agency. (photo by REUTERS/KCNA)
On the morning of April 2, 2013, we woke up to two news items about the development of nuclear weapons by totalitarian states. The first item (in The Wall Street Journal) announced that the Iranians are putting their nuclear activities on hold so as not to exacerbate the crisis with the West before the national elections in June. The second (from the various news agencies) stated that the North Koreans are restarting their nuclear reactors and uranium enrichment sites, for the sake of peace, of course. Is there any connection between these two events? I’m not sure there isn’t.

Just a reminder: The first and so far the only time that Iran took any serious steps back from its nuclear program for military purposes occurred in 2003, when the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. The presence of American military might within mortar range of its borders convinced Iran not only to postpone, not only to slow down, but to go so far as to suspend the activities of its “weapons group” entirely. This was considered enough progress for the annual American National Intelligence Survey published a year later to put a damper on Israeli warnings by releasing tepid report claiming that the Iranians were generations away from having nuclear capabilities. This gave the ayatollahs’ regime the vital time-out it needed to restore past glory and come within arm’s length of military grade nuclear capabilities.

Now, as another nuclear front heats up, this one between North Korea and the United States, Tehran is facing a dilemma. Unlike Iran, North Korea is  isolated and cut off from the rest of the world, and it has been since the get-go. It’s impossible to impose sanctions on it. It doesn’t care about what the West thinks. It just sticks its tongue out at the United States, even if it sometimes gives the impression that this isn’t a nation at all, but rather, a comic interlude.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that this comic interlude is armed from head to toe and has nuclear capabilities. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may look like a parody of some insane despot from Saturday Night Live, but the fact that he has his hand on the button in Pyongyang means that this isn’t funny anymore. North Korea manages to do whatever it wants, including the development of an ambitious nuclear program, including a declaration of war against its neighbor to the south. The fact that it avoids being punished for all that does not bode well for the American policy or for the international efforts to bring an end to the Iranian nuclear program by peaceful means.

The Iranian election is the most immediate reason why the Iranian religious and political leader Ayatollah Khameini ordered that progress on uranium enrichment be slowed down until after June. There are two ways to approach this recent directive: optimistically and pessimistically.

The pessimistic approach contends that this is just a tactical measure, and that there is no real intention to slow down the uranium enrichment process or, more generally, to change policy with regard to nuclear development. It is just another typical Iranian maneuver intended to buy more time. Khameini never had any intention of forgoing his nuclear program, but he decided that it would be better to wait until after the elections, when he has a president more to his liking. That will place him in a better position to take on the rest of the world.

The optimistic version of events paints a slightly different picture. It argues that the doomsayers who claimed that Khameini would try to use the nuclear crisis as leverage to ensure that the country elects an extremist president to his liking have made a serious mistake. What is actually happening is the exact opposite. Khameini realizes that sanctions and the conflict with the West have had enough of an impact on the Iranian public that the very chance of his candidates winning the next election is now in doubt. He recognizes that he has a problem, which is why he is shifting gears. He refuses to take any unnecessary chances, so he has separated nuclear development from politics. Advocates of diplomacy claim this as proof that sanctions really work, and effectively too. They are not only taking a toll on the Iranian government. They are even having an impact on its self-confidence.

Proponents of these two hypotheses each have legitimate arguments. Only history will judge which assessment was more accurate. The real question is what will happen if we discover that the pessimists were actually right? How will history act when we learn that the ayatollahs have missiles with nuclear warheads that can reach anywhere in the West? If that happens will anybody really care about some lively debate that took place in the first fifteen years of the millennium? It is far more likely that the whole debate be swept aside while governments rush to construct mass shelters against nuclear fallout.

All eyes are now on North Korea. They are also on Iran. America remains the leader of the free world. It’s the strongest superpower, and the only one that can do anything about this. Yes, it can. If Kim Jong-un keeps acting irresponsibly, it will send a clear message to Tehran that it doesn’t have much to worry about. On the other hand, if the United States sends the North Koreans an unequivocal message that there is a limit to the kinds of games it will tolerate, that message will reverberate all the way to Iran.

Similarly, if the United States does act after the next round of nuclear talks in Kazakhstan and after the elections in Iran, and it does so in a way that gets the ayatollahs to back off from their nuclear project, it will be much easier to rein in the North Koreans. What we are talking about is connected vessels, or more precisely, connected nuclear vessels. The conciliatory approach adopted by President Barack Obama during his first term was heard loud and clear, but its impact was a lot less noticeable on the ground. When the cat is away, the mice begin to play. Today’s world, four years and two months after Obama entered the White House, is a lot more dangerous than it was before he was elected.

Whenever you speak softly, you have to carry a big stick. Neither Tehran nor Pyongyang has seen that stick yet.

Ben Caspit is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor‘s Israel Pulse. He is also a senior columnist and political analyst for Israeli newspapers, and has a daily radio show and regular TV shows on politics and Israel.