Friday, October 20, 2006

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North Korea says they don't need no stinking tests

Despite reports earlier this week that North Korea had been planning three more nuclear tests, there are fresh reports that North Korea is saying there will be no more tests. From the Korea Times:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il told a ranking Chinese envoy that his country has no plan to conduct additional nuclear tests, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Friday (Oct. 20).

Quoting an unnamed diplomatic source in Seoul, Yonhap said Kim made the promise in his meeting with Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, who visited Pyongyang as Chinese President Hu Jintao's special envoy earlier this week.

"Kim was known to have clarified his stance that there will be no additional nuclear test," the South Korean news agency quoted the source as saying.

It said that if Kim's position is confirmed to be true, it will raise hopes for the resumption of the six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program and defuse the tension escalated by North Korea's detonation of a nuclear bomb on Oct. 9.

Reacting to the news, Glenn Reynolds asks: "Is it because diplomacy worked? (Yay, Condi!) Or is it because his scientists told him there was no chance of a pulling off a successful test any time soon?"

I'd say the answer is "none of the above." I'd have to go with "threats of Chinese economic coercion":

China is weighing tough measures to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions, with government experts calling for the reduction of critical supplies of oil and food that have helped sustain its isolated, impoverished neighbor.

The options Beijing is considering mark a break from even the recent past in which China has preferred to use incentives rather than threats with Pyongyang. But the Oct. 9 nuclear test further frayed already damaged ties and strengthened the hand of critics who believe Beijing should take a harder line against a country they say has ignored Chinese interests.

On Friday, all four major Chinese state-owned banks and British-owned HSBC Corp. said they have stopped financial transfers to the North - a step beyond what U.N. sanctions require and a likely blow to a weak economy that relies on China as a link to the world financial system.

Even before the nuclear test, with its patience wearing thin, China reduced food aid by two-thirds to the chronically food-short North this year, according to the U.N. World Food Program. After voting last week for the U.N. sanctions that ban trade in military and luxury goods, China stepped up inspections of the trucks crossing into North Korea.

"There's no doubt that China is increasing pressure," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. "If North Korea continues to behave in this way, go down this path, China will be forced to take more severe measures."

I shiuld confess that I have a theoretical stake in this answer -- but I don't think eirther diplomacy alone or Kim's worries about technical screw-ups are sufficient to explain this climbdown. Indeed, on the latter moltivation, one of the reasons to conduct nuclear tests is to figure out how to prevent mistakes in the future. The DPRK's first test -- which was a partial failure -- increased the incentive to conduct more tests.

Whether the DPRK returns to six-party talks remains to be seen.


posted by Dan on 10.20.06 at 11:54 AM


When Glenn suggests that it may be diplomacy that is working with the North Koreans, I believe that he means that Bush's strategy of attacking the problem multilaterally, dragging the Chinese into the fray and forcing the Chinese to act in their own self interest (if for no other reason to keep Jpan non-nuclear), is a successful diplomatic strategy! Much better that diplomatic approach than the pursuit of bilateral talks with the North Koreans where the Chinese are not part of the process!

posted by: RAZ on 10.20.06 at 11:54 AM [permalink]

I doubt this is a case of Bush "dragging the Chinese" into anything. The Bush Administration, as far as I can tell, has been running in a circle wringing its hands trying to figure out what it can do about NK. Basically, it is--as one commentator here put it earlier--the Chinese are getting fed up with their weird little pet on the border and are doing calculations as to whether supporting him hasn't been more trouble then it's worth in developing local power. And with a "hardliner" in Japan who is quite stiff about NK, the last thing the Chinese want is to have Japan spooked into starting their own nuclear program.

It's very good to play the wise old power in Asia, but if you want to gain authority, you gotta show you have it. So the financial cutbacks are the yank on NK's chain.

posted by: tzs on 10.20.06 at 11:54 AM [permalink]

This is really pretty unbelievable and ought to have a major impact. The question is whether it will cause NK to start acting reasonably or to go off and attack Japan or South Korea.

posted by: China Law Blog on 10.20.06 at 11:54 AM [permalink]

Why isn't "threats of sanctions" a form of diplomacy?

posted by: Antonio Manetti on 10.20.06 at 11:54 AM [permalink]

No one is happy about North Korea having an atomic weapon, but we should not delude ourselves. We do not know if they designed their test chamber to minimize the shock wave.

Most of their plutonium is reactor grade. There is a fair chance that they would not use their limited stock the weapons grade plutonium for an inital test. A test done with reactor grade material will almost certainly result in some type of a fizzle detonation. This test will still verify that their implosion design is sound and probably yield a lot of other usful information.

posted by: Bill D on 10.20.06 at 11:54 AM [permalink]

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