North-Korea´s lastest nuclear test came not really as a surprise, writes Pyongyang-watcher Paul French. And they might most likely get what they wanted: a resumption of the 6-party talks, led by China, he writes for Reuters.
Last year was a tough one for North Korea’s economy and people. With world attention focussed on the Syrian crisis the UN reported that aid donations to the North were 50 percent down on previous years. Not just food but also fuel, fertilizer and pharmaceuticals. Keeping the lights on and people fed has been tough. After the last nuclear test in 2013 Pyongyang called for a resumption of the Six Party Talks, but it never happened. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, on a visit to Beijing, agreed with the Chinese that talks should be resumed, though this may be interpreted as a reward for bad behavior on Pyongyang’s part. Traditionally the resumption of the talks has been matched with resumed higher levels of aid shipments. Hungry people are unhappy people and probably the biggest single potential threat to Kim Jong-un’s regime. Resumed and increased food aid shipments would ameliorate this threat somewhat.
So Kim Jong-un’s bomb – whether it turns out to be an H-Bomb or not – has got our attention. The United Nations will meet to consider new sanctions against the DPRK but it’s hard to see what new sanctions they can impose. It’s equally hard to see a stubborn Pyongyang caring. The more interesting part of the equation after this test is China. President Xi Jinping has noticeably not had that much to say about North Korea and, though the North often ignores Beijing, it doesn’t like being ignored by the bigger neighboring one-party state. China consistently, and again today, says it wants a “stable” North Korea. Beijing analysts have been watching the mass of Syrian refugees trudging across Eastern Europe towards Germany with some alarm. It does not want an unstable or totally collapsed regime in North Korea sending millions across the Yalu River seeking sanctuary in northeast China. Beijing is quite open about not wanting a refugee crisis on its borders.
It seems likely that the Six Party Talks process may be resumed now, led by Chinese diplomatic efforts. China, for one, can live with a nuclear enabled North Korea but it does not want to countenance an unstable state next door.
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