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North Korea Preparing for Another Test?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

North Korea: According to a report in a South Korean newspaper, an unidentified South Korean official said that "signs of possible test preparations had been detected at Punggye-ri in North Korea."


"There are recent active movements of manpower and vehicles at the southern tunnel at Punggye-ri. We are monitoring because the situation is similar to behavior seen prior to the third nuclear test."

The BBC reported that on 8 April the South Korean Unification Minister briefed the National Assembly about the signs of preparations for a nuclear test. "We are trying to figure out whether it is a genuine preparation for a nuclear test or just a ploy to heap more pressure on us and the US."

Comment: Manpower and vehicle movements are the signs of an active site, but could also be deception. North Korea is well aware of satellite coverage of the peninsula. Readers might recall that prior to the test on 12 February several sources reported that North Korea had prepared two tunnels for nuclear tests at Punggye-ri.

The February test used the west tunnel, according to analysis of commercial satellite images. The North also restated its determination to perform additional tests.

North Korea published no additional official statements since 5 April, but published several signed editorials in Rodong Sinmun accusing the US of warmongering and creating a dangerous situation. Saturday's edition carried a report about army -people meetings, signifying that indoctrination continues.

China-North Korea: On Saturday and Sunday, Chinese government officials made two references to trouble in the region and one to North Korea.


On 7 April, at an annual regional business forum on Hainan Island, Chinese President Xi criticized any country that causes chaos in a region. In a section of his speech devoted to the importance of peace for common development, Xi said,

"And no one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains. With growing interaction among countries, it is inevitable that they encounter frictions here and there. What is important is that they should resolve differences through dialogue, consultation and peaceful negotiations in the larger interest of the sound growth of their relations."

Comment: All commentators consider the sentence in bold a reference to North Korea (DPRK), but many press items have taken it out of context. In context, it is in the middle of a rambly paragraph on peace and development. That paragraph is one of four containing Xi's prescription for regional prosperity.

The sentence is more hortatory than stern. It promises no commitments. It also may be understood as applying to countries other than North Korea.

On 7 April, Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, answered a question about the status of the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang. Excerpted below is the exchange at the press conference. Emphasis added by NightWatch.

"Reporters asked: It is learned that the DPRK the other day asked foreign missions, including the Chinese Embassy in the DPRK, and international organizations stationed in the DPRK to make clear their evacuation plans "in the event of emergency." What is China's comment? Has China made a plan to evacuate its diplomatic missions?


Hong Lei said: China is gravely concerned about the growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese government has asked the DPRK side to earnestly protect the safety of Chinese missions in the country in accordance with international law and international norms such as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic relations. China will concretely safeguard the legitimate rights, interests, and safety of Chinese nationals and enterprises in the DPRK.

"As far as I know, Chinese missions in the DPRK are under normal operation," said Hong Lei.

Comment: This statement is the first confirmation that the Chinese embassy received the diplomatic circular sent on 5 April. The sentence in bold is the closest the Chinese have come to stating an intention to intervene to protect their interests. However, the statement may be understood as directed at all countries involved in the confrontation with North Korea.

The Kim Jong Un regime erred if it gave the Chinese embassy no special advance notice or consultation. Kim has many seasoned diplomats and counselors who would have advised him to take special care with China.

The Foreign Ministry exchange, above, contains language similar to statements by the Western foreign offices last Friday, including the reference to the Vienna Convention. China seems to have been treated like all the other embassies.


On Saturday, 6 April, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke by telephone with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He told Ban that there were deep concerns about the situation on the Korean peninsula, according to an official transcript of Wang's conversation.

"Wang noted that China has expressed severe concern over the current tensions on the Korea Peninsula, which is China's close neighbor. 'Our position is very clear,' he said. China insists that the current tensions on the Korea Peninsula should be resolved through dialogue, no matter how the situation may develop, said Wang. China also insists that the nuclear-free process of the peninsula should be advanced and the peace and stability of the peninsula should be maintained, Wang said.

He said that Beijing opposes any provocative words and actions from any party in the region and does not allow troublemaking at the doorsteps of China. China urges all the relevant parties to keep calm and restrained and help ease the tensions, Wang said. China calls for the restoration of six-party talks and to bring the issue back to the track of dialogue, he added."

Comment: This is the clearest statement of Chinese displeasure at the tension in northeast Asia. It is important to note the even-handedness in the wording.

None of the statements singles out North Korea for criticism or blame for the tension. China continues to treat its relations with North Korea as "family business." Whatever China might be doing to exert pressure on North Korea, it is not telling the public, except the determination to safeguard its own interests.


End of NightWatch


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