NK nuclear threat puts China in dilemma

By Ling Yuhuan Source:Global Times Published: 2013-2-7 0:23:01

This undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via the Korean News Service (KNS) on Sunday shows <a href=Kim Jong-un speaking at a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea. Photo: AFP/KCNA VIA KNS" src="http://www.globaltimes.cn/Portals/0/attachment/2011/6d929996-5aad-42c6-81ff-19708a11bc5c.jpeg">
This undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via the Korean News Service (KNS) on Sunday shows Kim Jong-un speaking at a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea. Photo: AFP/KCNA VIA KNS




As analysts around the world search for clues to a possible third nuclear test by North Korea and speculate on the impact that the test might bring to the already tense Korean Peninsula, some experts also expressed concerns about the diplomatic pressure that China will face in the wake of such a test.

Immediately after the UN Security Council expanded the existing sanctions against North Korea for its satellite launch in December last year, the North's National Defense Commission vowed on January 24 that it would continue to launch more long-range missiles and carry out a "high-level nuclear test," targeting its "sworn enemy," the US.

Pyongyang even ramped up its fiery rhetoric Tuesday by threatening to adopt stronger measures than a promised third nuclear test.

South Korea's outgoing President Lee Myung-bak said in an interview published Tuesday in the Chosun Ilbo daily that the North might attempt to "carry out multiple nuclear tests at two places or more simultaneously."

"If North Korea really conducts a third nuclear test, China will be dragged into a great dilemma," Su Hao, director of the Asia-Pacific Research Center at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times.

Su said that China will certainly criticize the North, but at the same time, it has to strive to prevent the UN from imposing overly harsh sanctions on Pyongyang, as they would not only destabilize Pyongyang but also harm Beijing's interests.

"Most of the time the whips for North Korea actually fall on the back of China," the main trade partner and provider of economic aid of the North, he said.

Ignoring pressure

As the North steps up its daily threats, Kim Sook, South Korea's UN envoy and president of the UN Security Council this month, warned Tuesday that the UN would take "very firm and strong" action if the North really conducted a third nuclear test, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist with the American Enterprise Institute, told the Global Times that it is "virtually certain" that the North will carry out a third nuclear test, and perhaps even more in the future.

"These tests are totally necessary for the regime to determine whether it is progressing with efforts to produce nuclear-armed, long-range missiles capable of striking the US," he said.

"Developing such capabilities is regarded by North Korea as key to both the regime's survival and to its quest for reunification of the Korean Peninsula on Pyongyang's own terms."

Besides increasing the North's international military leverage, Eberstadt said the nuclear threat also offers it "the only plausible option for changing the balance of power on the Korean Peninsula now that the North's economy is unable to support a credible conventional military threat."

It seems that the North's nuclear intentions have even strengthened after the South successfully launched its first space rocket last week.

South Korean experts predict that Seoul's space technology could soon surpass that of Pyongyang if it succeeds with the test launch of a 75-ton thrust engine, the testing of which is due to start in 2015.

"At this point, it is difficult to deny the fact that North Korea is ahead of us as it developed a 30-ton engine by itself and fired the Unha-3," an official with the Korea Aerospace Research Institute was quoted as saying by the Yonhap News Agency. "However, if we succeed with the test launch of a 75-ton engine, we can say that we have better technology than the North."

Boosting trilateral alliance

Facing the North's nuclear threat, "South Korea will have to depend more heavily on the US-led nuclear umbrella and missile defense system," Lee Dong-jun, a professor with the Asiatic Research Institute of Korea University, told the Global Times.

Although Seoul has more than once declined to join Washington's missile defense system to avoid getting on Pyongyang's nerves or irritating Beijing, a major opponent of the US' missile defense system in Asia, a third nuclear test by its northern neighbor may force Seoul to join Washington's plans, Su Hao said.

In fact, South Korea and its US ally have already made a demonstration of their military clout by launching a three-day joint naval drill involving a 6,900-ton US nuclear submarine on Monday in waters off the East Coast of the Korean Peninsula, a move seen as another warning to Pyongyang.

A third nuclear test may also lead to more security cooperation between South Korea and Japan, another ally of the US, Su noted.

"A deepened trilateral military alliance among the US, Japan and South Korea will be a great threat to China," he said.

Negotiations could happen

Zhu Feng, a professor at the School of International Studies of Peking University, said at a symposium held in Beijing last week that China should strongly condemn North Korea if it does carry out a third nuclear test.

"We've already had unresolved disputes over the East China Sea and South China Sea. Do we need a nuclear-armed North Korea?" Zhu said.

"Neither nuclear weapons nor missiles can bring real safety to North Korea. The country should win national security and dignity through improving its people's livelihood," he continued.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying confirmed Wednesday at a daily media briefing in Beijing that Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had exchanged views with his US counterpart John Kerry regarding the Korean Peninsula over telephone Tuesday night.

"All parties should keep the overall situation in mind, take a cautious attitude, be committed to the achievement of denuclearization on the peninsula and try to address the concerns of all parties through dialogue so as to avoid the progressive escalation of tensions," Yang was quoted by Hua as saying.

Despite the mounting tensions over the Korean Peninsula, Su Hao noted that the Six-Party Talks could still go ahead even if the North carries out a third nuclear test.

"Pyongyang, which thinks it will achieve more strategic leverage after the test, might be willing to go back to the negotiating table to gain more benefits out of this," he said.

"Eased tensions between the two Koreas are also in line with Washington's interests, as the competition with China over the South China Sea and East China Sea is where Washington's core interest lies," he noted.

Agencies contributed to this story

Posted in: Asia-Pacific

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