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By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

04 Apr 13. North Korea has set the world on edge many times before by waiving its fist at its South Korea neighbour and to the US Government but to the best of my knowledge never before in the sixty-years since the uneasy ‘armistice’ that led to the ‘end’ of the Korean War was signed has the rhetoric currently emanating from its leaders been so offensive at a time when the North’s relations with China were at such a low.

In threatening the west that it intends to extend nuclear capability through the revival of the Yongbyon nuclear complex that was closed down five years ago the Pyongyang administration will undoubtedly have further inflamed relations with China. For many years past China had been the primary ally of the Democratic Peoples Republic of North Korea but having voted to support the varying degrees of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council the Chinese administration had sent a very loud message that it had no wish to see Pyongyang administration possess nuclear weapons.

North Korea chose to make this latest stand that has included the tearing-up of the uneasy truce signed with its neighbour in an attempt to end the three year war back in 1953 on the back of renewed joint defence exercises that have regularly taken place between the US and South Korean military forces. Pyongyang most usually objects to these but has never until now done so on such a scale. For a nation that has clearly been very seriously impacted through the imposition of UN sanctions that followed a series of three nuclear tests it seems to me that while the rationale and scale of the latest outburst from Pyongyang are clearly aimed at further antagonising both the US and South Korean governments this might also be seen as a decision by North Korea to test the new Chinese leadership.

China’s leadership finds itseLf faced with an interesting quandary that in effect is probably not that new. On one hand it has no wish to see unification between North and South Korea and the possibility of the ‘West’ appearing right on its doorstep. On the other it has no wish to see its North Korean neighbour possess a nuclear arsenal which it might at some future occasion use to threaten its neighbour. This reasons a huge problem for the new Chinese leadership that will require a first real test of its diplomatic skills. It will also show the rest of the world where it wants to be in terms of defence diplomacy.

Outwardly the new administration in China has so far chosen to see the Pyongyang outburst being that of a naughty child throwing its toys out of the pram. But it is already clear that China is not turning a blind eye to the threats made by Kim Jong-un against the US and announced plans by Pyongyang to restart the nuclear delivery programme. Deep down I suspect that the new Chinese leadership is far more concerned than the outward appearance that we have so far seen. Indeed, I would go as far as to suggest that they already recognise that this is as much a test on them as it is on anyone else.

Meanwhile the US has announced that it will take new measures to protect it Guam territory which lies just 3,000 miles away from the threat of long range North Korean rockets. Rightly America sees North Korea as a real threat to world peace just as much as it does that of Iran. It has not stood still and its voice in support of countries potentially threatened by North Korea such as South Korea and Japan has rightly been strong. Increased tensions emerging from North Korea are also an issue for Russia but it is in my view it is the stance of the new leadership in China that may well decide the outcome in this unfortunate game of cat and mouse.

Further diplomatic effort on the part of the UN is unlikely to relieve tensions although very few believe that the latest outburst from Pyongyang that has already closed all remaining links be

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