Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
On Friday (27 April) DPRK state media reported that the a Science and Technology Festival opened at the Three Revolutions Exhibition Hall. DPRK Premier Choe Yong Rim and KWP Secretary Choe Tae Bok, among other central leadership, attended the opening ceremony. The festival was announced KCNA reports:
The festival is divided into 13 panels of light industry, agriculture, foodstuff, railway transport, energy, construction and building materials, basic science, state of the art and others.
Presented to the festival are achievements of more than 200 units in the process of putting the production processes on a modern and scientific basis by pushing back the frontiers of latest science and technology together with many research findings of scientists, technicians and working people highly appreciated at local festivals.
Attending the ceremony were Choe Yong Rim, premier of the Cabinet, Choe Thae Bok, secretary of the C.C., the Workers’ Party of Korea, Ri Ja Bang, chairman of the State Science and Technology Commission, officials concerned, scientists, technicians and working people.
Meanwhile, 372 km (231 miles) northeast of the Three Revolutions Exhibition Hall, excavation and construction work proceeds. The ongoing activity suggests that preparations are under way for the DPRK to conduct a third nuclear detonation at its test site in P’unggye-ri, Kilchu County, North Hamgyo’ng Province. Kyodo reported on 25 April that Russia raised its alert level on the expectation that the DPRK’s nuclear test would be within the week. 38 North reports:
The latest imagery, taken April 18, 2012, documents continuing preparations for an upcoming nuclear test and shows a train of mining carts on top of the spoil pile and random unidentified structures or objects on or near the piles (see figure 3). Based on an examination of previous satellite photos, their position and number appear to vary on a day-to-day basis, indicating the continued movement of vehicles, structures and other objects on or near the spoil piles at the mouth of the test tunnel. According to one press report on April 21, the North had completed the removal of the large spoil pile near the test site, probably to seal the tunnel for the explosion. However, this imagery shows the size of the pile largely unchanged. Whether the test device has been emplaced in the chamber and stemming with other material has been completed, remains unclear.
The DPRK’s third nuclear test may not be as imminent as some in the neighborhood foresee. Korea Herald reports:
Pollack was in Seoul last week to attend the 2012 Asan Plenum, a three-day international forum on global challenges that kicked off last Wednesday. The annual forum was organized by local think tank Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
Pyongyang may face a tougher response from its crucial patron China should it take another destabilizing action following the recent rocket launch, he pointed out. In an unusual move, Beijing agreed at the U.N. Security Council to condemn Pyongyang on April 16, three days after the botched launch.
“They may also be weighing the implications. This time, China would really impose some severe costs on them. We have the Chinese vice foreign minister in the forum, giving some very forceful remarks,” he said.
“They will test it at some point, but not now yet,” Jonathan Pollack of the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, told The Korea Herald.
“The reason might not be technical, but political that another nuclear test would probably be damaging to North Korea from the point of view of seeing a future South Korean president more aligned with their interests.”
“He did not say a nuclear test, but you could see what he was talking about to make clear that China’s disapproval of any such third test would be very strong, potentially very harsh.”
Pollack paid particular attention to the fact that Pyongyang has not been explicit yet about its preparation for a nuclear test while it gave some explanation before their past nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
“There has been no explicit threat to test the nuclear weapon. The other thing I want to emphasize that in both 2006 and 2009, they developed almost what we would call an immediate campaign over a period of time,” he said.
“I don’t know, it was perhaps, weeks or months, but it was trying to build the case for why they would then proceed to a nuclear test.”
Although it would not be easy for Beijing to change its core policy toward its impoverished ally considering that it favors stability on the peninsula, China could make some adjustments in it to protect its national interests, he argued.
“The Chinese are not, in my own view, likely to discard North Korea, but under some circumstances, it is possible that they might really try to put limits on the relationship if North Korea is affecting their Chinese vital interests,” he said.
“China’s larger worries concern North Korea undertaking actions to which the ROK (Republic of Korea) would respond this time, and then, this triggers an environment that draws in both the U.S. and China on the peninsula.”