real test for North Korea-China
relations By Donald Kirk
SEOUL - China is mending fences with North
Korea after signing off on "condemnation" of North
Korea's failed missile launch while the North
ratchets up the decibel level of invective against
South Korea and the United States.
confluence of revived warmth between North Korea
and China and rising rhetoric against the North's
main foes appears as intrinsic in North Korea's
desire to go on firing missiles and testing nukes
as "Supreme Leader" Kim Jong-eun consolidates his
power behind generals spoiling to show off the
North's military might.
signals do not necessarily mean, however, that
the Chinese really are
endorsing North Korea's aims - or for that matter
that they are entirely comfortable with the
trouble the North Koreans are posing by defying
advice to cool it and focus on hunger and disease
on the home front.
from a quick weekend trip to Beijing by Kim
Yong-il, international secretary of the North's
Workers' Party, had a self-consciously polite tone
that gave the impression of teeth-gritting,
forced-smiley conversations while the two sides
settled into their first heart-to-heart conflab
since the missile launch.
Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) labelled a
meeting between Kim Yong-il and Wang Jiarui, his
opposite number in the hierarchy of the Chinese
Communist Party, a "strategic dialogue" in which,
lo and behold, they "exchanged views on further
developing the friendly and cooperative relations
between the two parties and two countries and
matters of mutual concern".
tongue-twister raised the question of whether
their relations had really been "cooperative" of
late and whether their "mutual concern" had to do
with the wisdom of investing in missiles what it
costs to feed North Koreans for a year.
Although the KCNA neglected to say so, the
Chinese Foreign Ministry revealed that Kim Yong-il
also met Wang Jiarui's superior, Dai Bingguo,
whose post of state councilor makes him the most
influential Chinese official below President Hu
Jintao when it comes to dealing with North Korea.
The version of the meeting on the
ministry's website indicates that Kim may have
gotten a formally frosty reception. Dai was quoted
as saying what should ordinarily not have needed
saying, namely that China was "willing to work
with North Korea to take friendly cooperation to
new heights". Did he also have to note that
"traditional friendship" with the North was "a
precious treasure for our two parties, two
countries and our peoples"?
verbiage was totally bereft of any mention of the
North's missile or nuclear program - though Dai
did express pro forma "confidence that under the
leadership of Kim Jong-eun ... the Korean party,
government and people will constantly score new
successes in building a strong and prosperous
The question, after Kim
Yong-il's foray to Beijing, was whether the
Chinese had urged North Korea to go easy on the
missile-and-nuclear testing, at least until maybe
another round of diplomacy. A secondary question
was whether the North Koreans, who can be quite
obstreperous in dealings with their Chinese
benefactors, would be willing to listen. Yet
another question was whether the Chinese,
confronted by North Korean obstinacy, would do
anything, like cutting off some of the fuel and
food the North needs to survive, to get them to
knock it off.
As of now, it would seem the North Koreans may not be inclined to follow the Chinese advice - at least when it comes to threats if not to carrying them out. The North's armed forces on Monday said it had a plan for "special actions" involving "methods of our own style," each of several minutes duration,
The threat evoked memories of the sinking of the navy corvette the Cheonan in the Yellow Sea in March 2010 and the shelling of nearby Yeonpyeong Island eight months later.
There was no telling if North Korea would turn the latest dire threat into reality, but certainly North Korean attacks on
South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak did not bode
well for the prospects of reconciliation on the
Korean propaganda-writers appeared to be dreaming
up just about every insulting turn of phrase
imaginable in castigating President Lee, who had
the temerity to suggest the North worry about
feeding its people.
It would be tough to
top the line, all on KCNA, that "Lee is no more
than human scum" for having "so malignantly
desecrated this significant holiday" - a reference
to the mammoth centennial celebration on April 15
of the birth of Kim Jong-eun's grandfather,
founding "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung.
Although Lee refrained from saying what he
thought of the birthday party, KCNA viewed his
reference to the cost of the missile as "a hideous
provocative act of seriously hurting the noble
feelings of the Korean people" while besmirching
"the great jubilee in human history".
this might not have been all that upsetting had
the North not linked it to a threat against South
Korea that seemed a little worrisome. All the
North Koreans now needed, said KCNA, was "an order
they may now mercilessly punish the traitor".
While this capital bustled with people to
whom North Korea was the least of their worries,
North Korea wants South Koreans to be on guard.
"In case something happens on the peninsula now,"
KCNA warned darkly, "the responsibility will
entirely rest with traitor Lee".
such talk mean? Could the North have really been
serious about "sacred war against South Korea"?
Does North Korea, with hundreds of both
short-range missiles capable of hitting anywhere
in South Korea and artillery pieces within easy
range of the Seoul-Incheon megalopolis, really
plan to "blow up Seoul over alleged defamation of
A much more immediate question
was whether North Korea was gearing up for its
third underground nuclear test as suggested in
satellite imagery showing excavation around the
site of the two previous tests in October 2006 and
May 2009. The test seemed altogether possible in
view of the sequence of those tests - the former
after the failure of the launch of a long-range
missile in July 2006, the latter six weeks after
the successful launch of another such missile in
The difference between the
third test and the two previous ones is that it
may be the first in which the device is produced
with highly enriched uranium rather than
plutonium. North Korea has shut down its
five-megawatt reactor at its nuclear complex at
Yongbyon but is fabricating centrifuges with
enriched uranium at a relatively new facility on
the same site.
David Albright, president
of the Institute for Science and International
Security in Washington, has said he doubts if the
Chinese "are cooperating" with the North Koreans
on such nuclear projects, but he also questions if
the Chinese are doing much to stop them.
Yes, he said, "It looks like" North Korea
is "preparing for a third nuclear test" - possibly
with one of the dozen plutonium devices it's
already built, possibly with highly enriched
uranium or conceivably with a plutonium device
sheathed by highly enriched uranium.
Korea is keeping quiet about whatever it's got in
mind for a nuclear test but is compensating for
the failure of the missile with a display of
"The US and Japanese
reactionaries and their followers may cry" and
"the Lee Myung-Bak group of rats may squeak", said
one colorful dispatch from KCNA, but the North's
"satellites for peaceful purposes will be put into
space one after another".
that any satellite was attached to the failed
rocket - or that North Korea put satellites into
orbit as claimed in its launches in August 1998
and April 2009. Scientists have seen no sign of
any North Korean satellites in orbit - and no
proof the North has any satellite program at all.