Developments are coming thick and fast on the peninsula, and with the North’s nuclear test (possibly double test) seemingly imminent it seems like an appropriate time to review how things ended up in this position.
The North announced its plan to test a nuclear weapon on January 24 in what seems to be another round in the never-ending game of tit-for-tat with the UN after the international body approved a new sanction against the rogue nation after its rocket launch in December. The past week has seen a flurry of activity and the situation seems to be changing at an astounding rate (in fact, while in the midst of writing this new quotes and stories have emerged).
With events unfolding by the hour with claims and counter-claims the whole affair has become twisted and hard to follow for even the most news-savvy out there. Therefore it seems like an appropriate time to lay out the events clearly and concisely. What’s happened to bring us to this point, and what to keep an eye on over the next few weeks?
January 30 – Kim Jong-Un tells his people to get ready
On the day that South Korea successfully launched its own rocket North Korea, never eager to lose the limelight to its neighbor, began preparations for the nuclear test. According to Newfocusint:
Kim Jong-un issued an emergency standby order to all DPRK representatives stationed abroad. The order stresses for DPRK representatives not to say or act in any way that may provoke the US. In addition, it prohibits North Korean businessmen from holding meetings after the 30th, unless they were authorized in advance by the Party representative of a relevant embassy.
The immediacy of the instruction and that fact that all business dealings were frozen immediately brought expectation and fear that the test would be happening sooner rather than later.
January 31 – DPRK army makes the call for more bodies
North Korean state supported newspaper the Rodong Shinmun called for more of the nation’s youth and students to join the army en masse, which the South Korean media took very much as a further step of the nuke test preparations.
Also, the US, South Korea, and Japan released a statement following two days of talks renewing their security pact and promising they “will closely coordinate to deter a potential DPRK nuclear test and to respond to ballistic missile threats.”
February 1 – Ban Ki-Moon makes the UN’s voice heard
After meeting with fellow South Korean diplomat Kim-Sook, Ban Ki Moon voiced the UN’s official disapproval of North Korea’s proposed launch. For once the UN Security Council seems to be unified on the issue. In the US Ed Joyce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, promised renewed support and vigour in the US-SK relationship in the face of North Korea’s continued threat.
February 2 – North Korea promises ‘deadly retaliation’ to South Korea.
North Korea responded to the previous day’s UN and South Korean statements in typically belligerent manner as they promised that:
The DPRK is fully ready for both economic and military sanctions and anyone who encroaches upon its dignity and sovereignty even a bit with any form of sanctions will not be able to avoid deadly retaliation.
Concrete signs that North Korea is moving closer towards their test were released by a South Korean government source, who told Yonhap that:
At a tunnel in the southern part of the test site in Punggye-ri, we’ve found that work presumed to be part of preparations for a nuclear test has entered its final stage.
Video courtesy of Reuters:
February 3 – Kim Jong-Un’s ‘Important decision’
Kim Jong-Un gave what many took to be the clearest hint yet that a test was imminent when he address a meeting of the Central Military Commission, the meeting itself an unusual event, telling them he had made “important decision to defend national security and sovereignty.” North Korea was also hit out at the UN for its increasing sanctions, calling it a “grave obstacle” to the DPRK’s economic development.
Others were quick to respond to this North Korea’s vitriol, with the US Secretary of State John Kerry promising “significant consequences” and Lee Myung-bak warning all South Korean agencies to be on high alert.
February 4 – Park Geun-Hye’s strong words…
February 4 was the day that South Korea really took the bull by the horns in terms of their response to the threat. It was a day of strong words as President-to-be Park Geun Hye told North Korea that it “should understand it has nothing to gain from this provocation and should know that it will rather face strong responses from the international community.”
Meanwhile South Korea was also fighting its corner in China, where top nuclear envoy Lim Sung-Nam was putting more pressure on China to exert its full weight on the DPRK to stop any nuclear test. Although perhaps unrelated, on the same day the Unification Ministry released a review paper laying the blame for the past five years rocky relationship squarely at North Korea’s feet. The UN also seemed to be willing to follow South Korea’s hardball tactics as “very firm and resolute” action was promised by South Korea’s UN Ambassador Kim Sook.
… and stronger actions
On the same day as these strong-women sound bites, South Korea was also showed stronger actions to match. They begun by tightening and limiting the imports into North Korean trade area Kaesong.
A joint US-SK naval drill also begun despite the obligatory North Korean protests. Despite the ROK’s defense that these drills had been scheduled well in advance, the sight of a US nuclear submarine “capable of striking targets anywhere in the DPRK with cruise both nuclear and kinetic cruise missiles” was another step up in the week’s ever-increasing tensions.
As I write news is still coming about the situation. At a security forum being held by the Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC) the experts were sharing their views. US scientist Siegfried Hecker called fortronger nuclear controls before North Korea’s nuclear arsenal became a “permanent fixture.” The US ambassador to Seoul Sung Kim said: “We continue to call on the DPRK (North Korea) to avoid any provocative behavior, become a responsible neighbor, and return to an authentic and credible diplomatic process towards our shared goal of denuclearization.”
Despite this diplomatic and verbal to and fro it appears North Korea looks set to continue on its path towards a nuclear test. After threats, diplomacy, and sanctions does the international community have any tricks up its sleeve to stop the test? How far is China willing to lean on its ally? These are the questions that will consume the peninsula and UN over the next week or more.