US: Possible Second Nuclear Test Afoot
South Korea’s Yonhap News reports of a possible second North Korean nuclear test after information became available that United States satellites had once again detected suspicious movement of trucks and people in the area very near where the North Koreans detonated their first nuclear test. The same ‘suspicious movement’ was detected and reported ahead of that test as well. South Korea was cautious to arrive at the conclusion of an impending second nuclear test while Japan acknowledged that they had information but would not elaborate.
The first test was confirmed to be a nuclear blast earlier today in a news release from the Director of National Intelligence which read, “Analysis of air samples collected on October 11, 2006 detected radioactive debris which confirms that North Korea conducted an underground nuclear explosion in the vicinity of P’unggye on October 9, 2006. The explosion yield was less than a kiloton.”
The Chinese response continues to be somewhat self-conflicting, as it was widely reported Monday that China had begun inpections of cargo from North Korea. Yet Xu Guangyu of Beijing’s government-sponsored China Arms Control and Disarmament Association said that the Chinese inspections are “more a symbolic step than a real sanction measure. China just doesn’t engage in that sort of trade with North Korea, so there’s not much practical that needs to be done. It lets North Korea know our feelings.”
China is not hailed globally for its effective stance on arms control, but it could be said to be a remarkably bold move for North Korea to attempt to smuggle illicit weapons items through China without China’s nod. At the same time, even if China “just doesn’t engage in that sort of trade with North Korea,” smuggling is defined as “secretly importing [or exporting] prohibited goods,” which would be outside normal legal trade practices that Xu references by definition. That said, it is widely accepted that the greatest proliferation-policing challenge remains off the North Korean coastline and in the air, not along the Chinese land border.
While the level and intensity of Chinese cargo inspections may be viewed as debatable, South Korea’s Yonhap News has published another report of a development that has received little attention and may be a fair indicator of China’s displeasure with the Kim Jong Il regime. While at least one Chinese state-owned bank has frozen all North Korean accounts, China allowed three North Korean defectors to fly directly to the United States seeking political asylum. It marks the first time China has allowed defectors transit directly to the United States, cutting against a standing formal agreement with North Korea to repatriate defectors back to Pyongyang.
While China’s cargo inspection regime may be justifiably questioned by some quarters, with word of a potential second nuclear test that may be forthcoming, China’s permission to the three North Korean defectors to fly directly to America is an unsubtle message delivered at the doorstep of Kim Jong Il at his Pyongyang address.