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Possibility of nuclear test lingers

Kim Ga Young  |  2017-05-01 11:56
Although North Korea celebrated the 85th anniversary of its Military Foundation Day with a joint military strike demonstration, analysts have noted the absence of a significant provocation on April 25. However, the possibility of a sixth nuclear test or the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile remains a constant threat. It is believed by some that the regime intends to wait until levels of international scrutiny have subsided before conducting an abrupt strategic provocation.

At present, North Korea appears to be laying low following China's warning against the conduct of a sixth nuclear test. China has stated that it would take strong measures such as the suspension of crude oil supply and has been in constant contact with the United States in regards to measures against the North since the US-China summit on April 6 and 7.

The Trump Administration has been emphasizing China's role in pressuring North Korea and has recently demonstrated gestures of alignment with China, suggesting that there may have been a transactional arrangement of sorts between the two countries.

North Korea did not conduct any acts of provocation even on Kim Il Sung's birthday (April 25) and the 85th anniversary of its Military Foundation Day (April 25) which were noted to be the most likely dates of such actions. However, analysts note that the regime may still push ahead with a sixth nuclear test after international attention toward the Korean Peninsula dwindles.

"China is raising the pressure on North Korea, threatening to block the supply of crude oil to the nation if it attempts a sixth nuclear test. Kim Jong Un seems to understand the gravity of the warning. But this does not mean that North Korea will give up on nuclear development. It is quietly waiting for a suitable opportunity, Moon Sung Muk, head of the Center for Unification Strategy at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy told Daily NK on April 26.

"The US-ROK joint military practice will conclude at the end of April, and it is unclear how long the US and China will cooperate in pressuring North Korea. There are many opportunities for North Korea to conduct an act of provocation. For example, the May 9 presidential election would be an ideal date from their perspective. The possibility of a further provocation cannot be excluded.

A high-ranking North Korean defector formerly affiliated with the Korean Peoples Army added, "If China suspends the supply of crude oil, North Korea will not be able to maintain stability for more than three months. Therefore, China's warnings are substantive threats to North Korea, causing it to refrain from provocations at least for a while. It seems that China is indirectly telling North Korea not to conduct acts of provocation for a certain period. But it is questionable how long China will continue to pressure North Korea."

He added, "It is wrong to conclude that North Korea chose to conduct the joint military strike demonstration instead of the sixth nuclear test. North Korea has been holding large-scale military training or related ceremonies every Military Foundation Day, with this year's events receiving relatively more coverage through its propaganda media. The sixth nuclear test has already been prepared under the irrevocable orders of the Supreme Leader (Kim Jong Un) and can be conducted at any time.

Moon also emphasized that North Korea's threats of violence outside of the possibility of a sixth nuclear test should not be underestimated, as well as an ICBM launch as low-intensity provocations. Despite the international media commonly labeling provocations other than a nuclear test as 'low-intensity provocations' or 'minor jabs, the fact that North Korea will not abandon its nuclear ambitions should not be overlooked, he added.

"Although there has not been a sixth nuclear test or the launch of an ICBM as expected, we should not underestimate the other strategic weapons North Korea revealed during the large-scale military parade held on April 15. The absence of a nuclear test cannot guarantee peace. North Korea seems desperate to show the world that their leader is not shaken by external threats from the US and China. Therefore, we should not lower our guard in preparation for the possibility of extra provocations," Moon emphasized.

Meanwhile, Korean Central TV (KCTV) reported on April 26 that the Korean People's Army [KPA] held an unprecedented massive joint military strike demonstration in Kim Jong Un's presence. KCTV reported that, "[t]he submarines committed the formidable torpedo attacks against the enemy warships. The chasers, fighters and bombers dropped bombs to make a rain of fire." 

"More than 300 large-caliber cannons, lined up several kilometers along the shore, opened fire all at the same time," the report stated. Meanwhile, the South Korean army also reported that North Korea has undertaken an unprecedented large-scale firing drill in the areas of Wonsan, Kangwon Province.

In particular, as North Korea used the word 'demonstration' instead of 'training,' some surmise that the drill is indirectly targeted at the US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, which has been recently deployed in waters off the Korean Peninsula.

Lee Duk Haeng, spokesman for the Ministry of Unification, reported at a regular briefing that the word 'demonstration' appears to be a warning to domestic and external forces, noting that the regime seems intent on demonstrating its military forces to the outside world by mobilizing every combat-ready fighter and submarine, while domestically encouraging support for the military.

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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