If you were wondering what the explanation behind North Korea’s sudden willingness to suspend their nuclear and long-range missile tests, we’ve now got our answer. On April 20th, Western media announced that, in the days before Kim Jong-un is set to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a border truce village, Kim had formally decided to put his nuclear arms away for the time being, even closing the Punggye-ri nuclear test site under North Korea’s Mt. Mantap.
‘North Korea says it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site.’ (CBC)
In addition to the establishment of the first telephone hotline between the leaders on the Korean Peninsula and a vow from Kim to ‘actively engage with regional neighbors and the international community to secure peace on the Korean Peninsula’, the South Korean top man was seemingly taken by the immensity of the gesture that is Kim agreeing to abandon his previously obsessive stance toward developing the North’s nuclear arsenal.
‘Moon's office welcomed the announcement as "meaningful progress" toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Presidential official Yoon Young-chan said in a statement Saturday local time the announcement will brighten the prospects for successful talks between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington.’ (CBC)
Well, as many more skeptical onlookers predicted, there was a good reason for Kim agreeing to abandon his nukes, and it has nothing to do with diplomacy, unless you count not ticking off its Chinese ally as diplomacy. It was reported on Wednesday that Kim didn’t have much choice when it comes to suspending nuclear testing activities for the immediate future.
That’s because the Punggye-ri site where Kim’s scientists have been conducted their land tests since 2006, with others taking place in 2009, 2013, and 2016 has collapsed, with a ‘chimney’ which could result in the drifting of nuclear radiation into China forming as the result of increasingly powerful tests.
‘North Korea’s mountain nuclear test site has collapsed, putting China and other nearby nations at unprecedented risk of radioactive exposure, two separate groups of Chinese scientists studying the issue have confirmed.’ (South China Morning Post)
It is a development that significantly reduces the leverage that Kim Jong-un had going into talks with both South Korea and, soon, the United States, so he spun the event as well as he could, getting out in front of reports and portraying the decision to suspend tests as if they were voluntary. Except, they aren’t voluntary, and now we know that the only land site that North Korea has used for nuclear testing since 2006 is no longer viable.
It’s consummate Kim. He wasn’t lying, exactly, as they are suspending their nuclear tests. He was only completely misrepresenting the conditions under which that suspension was being imposed.
It is also telling that Kim was apparently convinced by Chinese influence, i.e. told by Chinese representatives, that the site was in fact closed for good. Even with a hole having been torn in the mountain that could cause nuclear fallout, it’s never going to be known whether Kim would have abandoned the mountain that has served as home base for his beloved nuclear tests during his entire reign as Glorious Leader.
‘One group of researchers found that the most recent blast tore open a hole in the mountain, which then collapsed upon itself. A second group concluded that the breakdown created a “chimney” that could allow radioactive fallout from the blast zone below to rise into the air.’ (SCMP)
Throughout the years, the mountain has been eroded into ‘fragile fragments’, and a report by a Chinese geologist concluded that the detonation of a thermal nuclear warhead last autumn was the most powerful to date, the straw that broke what was left of the mountain’s structure. With those reports having been filed, there is no way that the Chinese government would risk the contamination of their own people to appease whatever desire for further tests that Kim may have had.
‘The mountain’s collapse, and the prospect of radioactive exposure in the aftermath, confirms a series of exclusive reports by the South China Morning Post on China’s fears that Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test had caused a fallout leak.
Radioactive dust could escape through holes or cracks in the damaged mountain, the scientists said.’
Zhao Lianfeng, a researcher with the Institute of Earth Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, said the two studies supported a consensus among scientists that “the site was wrecked” beyond repair. (SCMP)
So, now we know that Kim’s willingness to negotiate, while encouraging on some level, has likely been greatly compelled by the fact that he, for now, has a much duller saber to rattle. He and his regime are still undoubtedly loyal and indebted to China, but now, perhaps, negotiations with the West may become leverage of their own against the Chinese regime.
Who really knows what Kim Jong-un is thinking? It’s possible that, from day to day, he doesn’t even really know exactly how he’s going to proceed. But, what we do know now, is that the suspension of North Korean nuclear tests is not the goodwill that it appeared to be for some optimists, with those optimists including South Korea’s president. It was wishful thinking to think in such positive terms, and as is almost always the case with the Hermit Empire, wishful thinking is proven to be delusional thinking.