Rubbing salt in the woundTalk about insensitivity and bad timing. North Korea is reportedly accelerating its preparations for a nuclear test. Seoul and Washington intelligence sources detected increased activities at an underground nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, Kilju County of North Hamgyong. Satellite pictures showed increased traffic near the area and equipment arriving at the site. A spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense said, “North Korea could abruptly carry out a nuclear test within a short period of time” if it wants to. It may choose to disregard that the South is in a state of mourning for hundreds of lives from a catastrophic maritime accident.
The North has been repeating itself for some time. It launched long-range missiles, then warned of a nuclear test, which it carried it out. Last month, North Korea launched long-range missiles. The UN Security Council followed up with a statement condemning the action, which violated international regulations. The North’s Foreign Ministry threatened to carry out a “new type” of nuclear test to strengthen its deterrence. Since it normally does not wait more than a month to detonate a nuclear device after sending out a verbal warning, the activities around the Punggye-ri site may not be merely a show of force timed with this week’s visit to Seoul by U.S. President Barack Obama. Friday, the day that the U.S. president arrives in Seoul, also marks the anniversary of the North Korean military’s founding.
If North Korea acts out its nuclear threat under current circumstances, inter-Korean ties may go beyond repair. The South won’t easily forgive North Korea’s provocations during this time of deep despair and grief. Few would dare to talk about cooperation for some time. The new test may improve Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons technology, but it will come at the cost of losing sympathy from South Koreans forever.
If North Korea carries out its fourth nuclear test, Pyongyang would automatically face unprecedented global sanctions under the “trigger” article of active resolutions. It will be cut off from international commerce and finance and would face other punitive measures. It may no longer be able to rely on Beijing for support and protection. Pyongyang won’t be able to sustain its economy and nuclear weapons program, and its regime may head toward doomsday.
North Korea must lay down its nuclear program if it wants to survive. It must return to the six-party denuclearization platform and assure that it will halt its weapons program. Washington also endeavors to engage Pyongyang. We hope Obama’s visit will provide a breakthrough in the nuclear issue, not an impasse.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 23, Page 30