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October 28, 2006
Notify Beijing

The South Koreans have noticed unusual activity at a suspected North Korean nuclear site, and speculation has started that Pyongyang may be preparing another test. If so, it may push Beijing to action that they have only recently considered:

South Korean and U.S. officials are monitoring the construction of a new building and other activities at a suspected North Korean nuclear site, trying to determine if the communist country is planning a second test detonation, news reports said Saturday.

South Korea is keeping a close watch on the movement of trucks and soldiers at the Punggye-ri site in the North Korea's remote northeast, Yonhap news agency reported, citing several unidentified military officials. One official, however, said a second test was "not believed to be imminent."

"We are closely monitoring to see if these are preparations for a second nuclear test," another official was quoted as saying.

South Korea has also detected a new building being erected at the site, the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported, citing unidentified government officials.

Beijing went out on a limb just a few days ago, assuring the UN and the world that Kim Jong-Il had no intentions of conducting another nuclear test. They put what's left of their prestige on the line with that assertion, and a failure will create an untenable tension between themselves and Pyongyang. It would be a demonstration of their impotence in their own back yard, and with the economic battles they face in the region, they cannot afford to lose face twice in the same month.

For the rest of us, the first test was the most significant. It proved two things: North Korea has nukes, and they're badly built. Testing more of them would only mean they have less of them to use elsewhere. Another failure would embarrass them more than Beijing, and it would remove even more of the presumed deterrent. Still, they need to conduct a test at some point in time to demonstrate some success, and they may assume sooner is better than later.

If Kim does touch off another nuke, South Korea will have to get serious about sanctions as well. They took the first step this week, barring travel to some North Korean officials, but they still have their business deals in operation. A second test would bring enormous pressure to cut off any cross-border economic engagement. The US and Japan would insist, in very strong terms, on compliance with the UN resolutions.

The situation is certainly explosive in more ways than one ...

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 28, 2006 12:14 PM

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