North nuke warhead test seen as probable

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North nuke warhead test seen as probable

The next nuclear test by North Korea will be one involving the placement of a nuclear warhead on a missile, according to a Chinese expert on North Korea yesterday.

Zhu Feng, a professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University, told a seminar in Seoul on Wednesday that Pyongyang has gained increased confidence in its nuclear technology after two underground nuclear tests and will proceed to test with a nuclear warhead. “The Chinese leadership believes that the North has sufficient nuclear [weapons manufacturing] capability and is now entering a stage where it is focused on minimizing the size of a warhead,” Zhu said.

The North conducted nuclear tests in October 2006 and May 2009, both underground, that revealed an improvement in its nuclear capability over the course of the tests. Zhu did not say when the North would likely conduct the warhead test, which would mark a significant advancement in creating a nuclear force.

But Zhu added that it was not likely that North Korea would conduct a nuclear test in the near-term.

The North announced in May that it succeeded in creating a nuclear fusion reaction, a key technological step to manufacturing a hydrogen bomb.

Zhu said China was interpreting this claim as not being related to making a hydrogen bomb, but rather for making the nuclear weapons smaller and lighter.

The North is threatening a “nuclear war” in response to increased international pressure on its nuclear weapons program. The U.S. plans to unveil tougher financial sanctions against the North soon.

Zhu said China believes North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to becoming less careful in his judgements, citing a failed monetary reform in November last year as an example.

He said after Kim’s death, a new leadership led by his son and heir apparent Kim Jong-un will be established, but that it could be replaced by a collective leadership system in the years to come.

Zhu said that if North Korea collapses, China would only allow South Korea to take control over the North if Pyongyang launched a pre-emptive attack on the South. China otherwise will try to deal with a collapsed North Korea in the United Nations Security Council.

He denied a claim that China wants to absorb the North if it implodes, saying such a scenario is incompatible with China’s global geopolitical strategy.

But he criticized the South for its current tough attitude on the North following the Cheonan sinking.


By Kang Chan-ho [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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