Pyongyang’s move may restart vicious circle

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-9-15 21:18:01

North Korea announced Tuesday that the Yongbyon nuclear site has resumed normal operations. Just a day before, Pyongyang announced a plan to launch a new satellite in October using a long-range rocket to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Workers' Party. The satellite launch is seen by South Korea, the US and Japan as an intercontinental ballistic missile test. These actions by North Korea will have a great impact in the region. It seems that it will be hard to avoid a new round of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The last time Pyongyang launched a satellite was in December 2012, its only "successful" launch so far, after which the UN Security Council imposed strict sanctions on North Korea. In retaliation, Pyongyang carried out its third nuclear test three months later, which aggravated the confrontation between Pyongyang and the international community.

Some analysts hold that if North Korea puts the satellite into orbit next month and is then subject to further UN sanctions, it is likely to conduct a fourth nuclear test in "revenge against the UN." The North Korean nuclear issue will fall into a frustrating vicious circle.

North Korea should ordinarily have the right to develop space technology. But it is unable to convince the outside world, particularly South Korea, the US and Japan that it is simply launching a weather satellite instead of carrying out an intercontinental ballistic missile test. Pyongyang had previously made public its atom bomb tests and is suspected of exaggerating the actual situation. But as it denies that its satellite launch is a cover to test a long-range rocket, the sharp contrast perplexes the world.

After the 2013 UN sanctions resolution, if Pyongyang goes ahead with another launch, Pyongyang could defy the resolution.

China definitely opposes this behavior and the resumption of operations at the Yongbyon nuclear facility. But Beijing may give more consideration to the actual effects as to how it makes public its attitudes and then communicates with the international community and North Korea.

As there has been an impasse in the North Korea nuclear issue, Pyongyang feels a strong sense of insecurity. It believes that only with nuclear strike capability can it force Washington to change its hostile policy toward North Korea and hence gain security reassurances. Obtaining this capability is a gamble and Pyongyang has withstood long-term diplomatic isolation and sanctions at high cost.

South Korea, the US and Japan have rejected trying to understand Pyongyang's sense of insecurity and have used military deterrence and economic sanctions as the basic means of dealing with North Korea. Their media demonizes the North Korean regime and deems its efforts to own nuclear weapons as a senseless act. They respond to North Korea's noncompliance with strengthening suppression and choose not to address the sense of insecurity that prompts Pyongyang to develop nuclear weapons.

The policy of these three countries toward North Korea is simply to keep applying pressure while Pyongyang's attitude of owning nuclear capability is direct, leaving little room for maneuver. China is therefore put in the most difficult position. China opposes North Korea's development of nuclear weapons, but it also hopes that relevant parties can sit down for negotiations to prevent friction and to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully.

People have noticed that there has not yet been a summit between the Chinese and North Korean leaders since Kim Jong-un took charge. This is clearly abnormal. But meanwhile, the two countries have maintained communication and are seeking the right opportunity to express goodwill to each other. Despite the divergence over the nuclear issue, the foundation of the friendship between the two sides is solid. Both countries are aware of the importance of maintaining a friendly relationship.

It has already been 10 years since the 9.19 statement was signed in the Six-Party Talks. The talks have not resulted in an effective outcome, and North Korea is developing into a real nuclear power. However, Pyongyang has not become more secure. Instead, it has suffered from greater losses compared with other countries. Many observers believe that having a nuclear weapon will not absolutely guarantee the security of North Korea. The detrimental effects of possessing a nuclear weapon will far exceed the benefits of having a nuclear deterrence.

It's just wishful thinking that the US will succumb to the limited nuclear deterrence of North Korea or that Pyongyang will change its national strategy under pressure from South Korea, the US and Japan. This is not a game of one defeating the other, otherwise the North Korea nuclear issue would not have lasted for more than 20 years. The strength of the three countries is not a solution for the nuclear issue. But as the weaker side, North Korea should not have the illusion that it can intimidate the US, which has had long experience playing the game of brinkmanship with the former Soviet Union during the nuclear arms race.

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