North Korea Nuclear Test Strains Ties with China, World


2006.10.09
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Protesters set fire to a banner with photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il during an anti-North Korea rally in Seoul, 09 October 2006. North Korea announced it conducted a nuclear weapons test 09 October in defiance of worldwide appeals and threats of sanctions. Photo: AFP/Jung Yeon-Je

WASHINGTON—The United Nations Security Council has rebuked North Korea's claim to have tested a nuclear weapon and is set to discuss what to do next, including enforceable and mandatory sanctions.

U.S. President George Bush said his administration was working to confirm what he called Pyongyang's "provocative" claim.

The Bush administration was said to be circulating a draft resolution aimed at securing targeted sanctions, including a halt to any trade with North Korea in materials that could be used to make deadly weapons and stepped-up cargo inspections.

Washington also wants the sanctions to be mandatory and enforceable.

The current president of the Security Council, Kenzo Oshima of Japan, called on North Korea to refrain from further testing and return to six-party talks aimed at ending the secretive government's nuclear program.

News agencies quoted the U.N. Security Council as vowing a "strong and swift response."

Even North Korea's longstanding ally, China, condemned the test in unusually strong terms, calling it "brazen." Beijing said the claimed test "defied the universal opposition of international society."

Second test possible

South Korean media said the test took place in Gilju in Hamgyong province at 1036 (0136 GMT).

The size of the weapon was unclear, with estimates varying from 550 tons to as much as 15 kilotons. The 1945 Hiroshima bomb was 12.5-15 kilotons.

I think North Korea has passed its judgment, and found it not necessarily disadvantageous in future negotiations with the U.S. to possess nuclear weapons and conduct nuclear tests. The fact that North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon constitutes a breach of the principle of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, established between the two Koreas in 1991.

According to Agence France-Presse, Kim Seung-Gyu, head of South Korea’s spy agency, told legislators there had been "unusual movements" in a rugged area of North Korea some 20 miles (about 32 kms) from the site of the first test, suggesting a second test could be imminent.

Break with Beijing

North Korea's official KCNA news agency described the test as an "historic event that brought happiness to our military and people," adding that it would maintain "peace and stability" in the region and was "a great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous, powerful socialist nation."

Pyongyang withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 and has for the last year boycotted talks aimed at ending its nuclear program.

Hong Kong-based military analyst Ping Kefu said the test signalled "a complete break-up between China and North Korea."

"Less than one hour after the nuclear test, Beijing issued a statement saying that it was resolutely opposed to it,” said Ping, an analyst for Jane’s Defense Weekly , speaking to RFA's Mandarin service.

"This is unprecedented. The political breakup between China and North Korea is now out in the open."

Sanctions and diplomacy urged

North Korea informed Beijing of the impending test about 20 minutes before it occurred, indicating a wish to keep lines of communication with China open, Ping added.

China may now take measures "to underscore its political influence on [North Korea’s capital] Pyongyang," strengthening border security and scaling back or even cutting off aid to North Korea, he said.

"There is no everlasting friendship between North Korea and China, nor will the two sides be in a perpetual state of confrontation. They use each other."

Major impact

Kim Yoncheol of Korea University said strong sanctions and robust diplomacy were warranted.

Upon learning the news, I also grew worried that ordinary North Koreans would be the ones most severely affected by further sanctions against North Korea in the future.

"I think North Korea has passed its judgment and found it not necessarily disadvantageous in future negotiations with the United States to possess nuclear weapons and conduct nuclear tests. The fact that North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon constitutes a breach of the principle of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, established between the two Koreas in 1991," Kim told RFA's Korean service.

"Consequently, South Korea must rethink its policy towards North Korea. The international community must also issue a stern warning as well as sanctions, but at the same time it should engage in sustained diplomatic efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue in a peaceful fashion," he added.

Defectors see strategy at work

Professor Arthur Ding of Taiwan's National Chengchi University predicted that the test would have a major impact on nuclear nonproliferation initiatives "because North Korea is now a de facto nuclear country."

"Regionally, in East Asia, the impact will be even bigger. For example, what is the future of six-party talks? Will Japan accelerate its arms buildup?" Ding told RFA's Mandarin service.

"The 1998 Taepo-dong missile test by North Korea shocked the entire nation of Japan. The nuclear test conducted on Monday will definitely have an enormous impact on Japan's defense policy. But whether Japan will seek to develop its own nuclear weapons remains to be seen because there is a strong voice within Japan against developing nuclear weapons," he said.

North Korean defectors in South Korea said Pyongyang appeared to be making a strategic move and the North Korean people would likely be unsurprised.

The North Korean people, they said, would surely suffer the cost of any additional international sanctions.

"When I heard the news, I immediately realized that North Korea had used its last remaining card as leverage against us," Lee Heesook, a defector now working as a social worker and pursuing a Ph.D., told RFA's Korean service.

"I also understood that U.S. financial sanctions against North Korea have had a considerable impact. On a personal level, I was worried about the safety of my relatives living in the immediate vicinity of the nuclear test site in Hwadae, Northern Hamgyung province.

"Upon learning the news, I also grew worried that ordinary North Koreans would be the ones most severely affected by further sanctions against North Korea in the future."

Park Jiho, also a defector who works as a reporter for an online Korean newspaper, said: "I, and my fellow defectors in Seoul, think that by conducting a nuclear test, North Korea has reached a point beyond which it can move no further."

"It occurred to me that severe sanctions and isolation had made North Korea opt for a nuclear test. Secondly, I thought [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Il might use the nuclear test to solidify internal unity and revive the determination of his own people, who are as disheartened and discontented as ever."

"South Koreans may have been very shocked by the North Korean nuclear test, but this came as no surprise to North Koreans, who have been told by their regime all along that it would conduct nuclear tests, and that it would ensure its survival by doing so."

"Most North Koreans believe that only a nuclear North Korea can rival the United States," said Choi Hongdo, a defector and university student.

Original reporting by RFA's Korean and Mandarin services. Translation by Greg Scarlatoiu and additional reporting by Richard Finney. Produced for the Web in English by David Beasley and Sarah Jackson-Han.

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