The Chinese government was seen on Wednesday to have subtly cautioned North Korea to withhold from conducting a new nuclear test amid reports that a detonation could be close at hand, Reuters reported (see GSN, April 24).
The North has nearly finished advance efforts for an underground nuclear explosion, an anonymous source with strong connections in Beijing and Pyongyang said in an interview with Reuters. Reports have indicated that a test could occur within two weeks.
Pyongyang has already been punished twice by the U.N. Security Council for the nation's 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests and was strongly condemned for firing a long-range rocket earlier this month. A third atomic trial could be expected to deepen North Korea's pariah status.
"Peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia bears on China's national interest and also bears on the interests of all relevant parties," Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said to journalists.
China is North Korea's most prominent ally and has at times used its permanent position on the Security Council to shield its neighbor from criticism and punishment. However, Beijing's failure to convince North Korea to abstain from the recent long-range rocket launch has raised questions about just how much influence it holds over Pyongyang.
"China will oppose anything which might jeopardize peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, as this would damage China's national security interests and the interests of the relevant parties as well," Cui said in response to a question about the potential for North Korea to detonate a nuclear device.
"We believe that no party should take any action that might escalate tensions," the vice minister said.
The Obama administration has pressed China to do more to reign in North Korea, but Cui said preserving regional stability "is the joint responsibility of all sides, not just China alone" (Ben Blanchard, Reuters I, April 25).
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday called on the North to abstain from any new hostile actions, Reuters reported.
Speaking in Brasilia, the Pentagon chief said he does "not have any specific information as to whether or not they will proceed or not with additional provocations at this time."
"But I again would strongly urge them not to engage in any kind of provocation -- be it nuclear testing or any other act -- that would provide greater instability in a dangerous part of the world" (Stewart/Soto, Reuters II, April 24).
A new North Korean nuclear test could be expected to be "somewhat different and bigger" than earlier detonations, a former top U.S. envoy to the six-party talks on the North's nuclear program told the Yonhap News Agency.
Pyongyang's two previous devices featured plutonium but experts think a new test is likely to be powered by highly enriched uranium. The North is understood to have enough plutonium for about six warheads, though higher numbers are cited. The ability to enrich uranium to warhead levels of roughly 90 percent would enable North Korea to significantly grow its fissile material stocks.
"I think a nuclear test really requires the Chinese response not just from its Foreign Ministry but from real power setters in China," Christopher Hill said. "They should tell North Korea not to do it" (Yonhap News Agency I, April 25).
Institute for Science and International Security President David Albright said North Korea could see a fresh atomic blast as a means of demonstrating the credibility of its nuclear deterrent, NBC News reported.
"Once you get beyond a dozen, it makes sense to test type and reliability of your weapons," according to Albright.
Albright said his organization has concluded North Korea does possess "missile-deliverable weapons."
The North has not openly demonstrated the ability to miniaturize nuclear bombs to the level required to be fitted to a missile.
In 2006 and 2009, the North Korean Foreign Ministry released statements announcing the detonations hours prior to their occurrence. An unidentified U.S. official, though, said Pyongyang might choose not to do that with a possible third test (NBC News, April 24).
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are set to discuss North Korea with their Chinese equivalents in strategic discussions in the Chinese capital next week, Yonhap reported (Yonhap News Agency II/Korea Times, April 24).
A high-ranking North Korean official has suggested the regime can be expected to maintain its nuclear weapons program as history has demonstrated that governments that accept denuclearization are subsequently overthrown, Kyodo News reported.
Ex-Japanese legislator Antonio Inoki traveled to North Korea this month to observe regime festivities. He quoted ruling Workers' Party secretary Kim Yong Il as saying, "The United States says it will offer aid if we stop nuclear programs. But countries that abandoned nuclear power were crushed."
Kim is assumed to be referring to the former dictatorships of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Qadhafi in Libya.
"We will not make the same mistake," Kim reportedly vowed.
It has been more than three years since the last round of six-party talks involving China, Japan, Russia, the United States and both Koreas. Hopes for movement toward resuming the denuclearization negotiations were dashed again following the rocket launch, when Washington canceled its plan to send food aid to North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang's pledge to suspend certain atomic operations and to refrain from further nuclear or long-range missile tests (Kyodo News, April 24).
The Chinese government was seen on Wednesday to have subtly cautioned North Korea to withhold from conducting a new nuclear test amid reports that a detonation could be close at hand, Reuters reported.