Are North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions Alienating it’s Chinese Ally?

Last Tuesday morning just before noon, at Punggye-ri site in the north-east of the country, North Korea carried out a third nuclear test. This nuclear test was said to be twice as big as previous one detonations in 2009, and marks the first round of nuclear tests under King Jung-un. Analysts have said these tests could bring North Korea closer to developing a nuclear warhead that is small enough to be attached to a long-rang missile, bringing the west coast of the US within striking distance of the North Korean regime.

orth Korea has used it as a warning, and stated that stronger actions will be taken unless the United States ends its hostility towards the North Korean regime. This is especially with reference to the United States’ condemnation of the North Korean rocket launch two months ago. Pyongyang does not appear to be holding back, and is threatening stronger action, although not explicitly describing what this further action could be. A spokesman for the North Korean foreign ministry has been quoted as saying the nuclear test was carried out with “maximum restraint”.

However, most interesting is the affect of these nuclear tests on North Korea’s neighbours, especially China’s reaction, as North Korea’s most important political and economic ally. China is North Korea’s main trading partner and supplies the majority of aid to the country.

Pyongyang does not appear to be holding back, and is threatening stronger action

Reports are stating that China is joining in the global condemnation of North Korea’s newest round of tests, most importantly along with the United States, and it’s other neighbours Japan and South Korea. Although China is unlikely to completely cut off North Korea, it is showing signs of discontent with North Korea’s behaviour. This has become especially apparent in the speed at which China was willing to cooperate in a security council meeting in order to discuss the issues following Tuesday’s nuclear test. On top of this, China has asked North Korea to engage in the right course of dialogue, as analysts describe China’s embarrassment in light of the nuclear test.

These recent events follow an earlier incident after the nuclear tests performed by North Korea in 2009, when He Yafei, China’s then vice-foreign minister, referred to North Korea as a “spoiled child” when talking to a diplomat from the United States, as has been recorded on Wikileaks.

If China were to be harsher on North Korea, it could prove to be beneficial for China’s relationship with the United States and South Korea

These events are also important for China’s position in the world, especially for new leader Xi Jinping, as his choices with regards to North Korea will demonstrate whether he is going to make changes to China’s foreign policy. If China were to be harsher on North Korea, it could prove to be beneficial for China’s relationship with the United States and South Korea, and a positive way for Xi to demonstrate his foreign policy priorities and potential changes to China’s behaviour on a global level.

South Korea has responded to the nuclear test by raising its military alert level, while Japan is dispatching aircrafts in order to look for radiation in the atmosphere. However, reports describe the general South Korean public as unsurprised, and are hoping for their president-elect, Park Geun-hye, to change South Korea’s policy towards their Northern neighbours. Park Geun-hye will take office in about two weeks, but her policy plans with regards to North Korea are still relatively unclear.

by Margaux Meyer

 

 

 

 

 

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