UPDATED: The North Korean Nuclear Gambit

By Sean Osborne, Associate Director, Senior Analyst, Military Affairs

UPDATED: 20 October 2006: Below is recently posted report from Australia. The details in the report have the potential of critical importance regarding the longstanding relationship and alliance between the communist People’s Republic of China and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Based upon this account the alliance is not only fractured but possibly irreparably harmed to the point of possible conflict between the two nations.

LINK:  North’s spy coup upsets Red Army (Chinese People’s Liberation Army), Rowan Callick.

21 October 2006: CHINA’S People’s Liberation Army is pushing the Government to get tough with North Korea after a Chinese spy sold information to Pyongyang that led to the collapse of Beijing’s main intelligence network in the Stalinist state.

A well-informed Hong Kong-based Chinese language publication, Asia Week, reported that the co-ordinator of one of China’s intelligence networks in North Korea, who was based in the Chinese border city of Yanji, sold key information to the North Koreans for about $400,000.

“As a result, the network was dissolved. Since then, China’s intelligence on North Korea has been weak,” the report said. This accounts for Chinese intelligence continuing to downplay as unlikely a North Korean nuclear test, even on the eve of this month’s underground blast.

The October 9 nuclear test, in defiance of Chinese urging, coupled with the bribery and the shooting of a 19-year-old Chinese border guard by North Korean soldiers a year ago, has helped drive the PLA, the most powerful institution in China after the Communist Party, into pushing the Government to get tough with Pyongyang. Asia Week said yesterday that elements within the PLA were seeking the amendment of the alliance between China and North Korea formally agreed in 1961.

On Monday, the PLA held a memorial ceremony for Li Liang, who was killed by fire from five North Korean soldiers when he shot at them after they had crossed the border. Border guard Li, in the army’s Second Regiment, was attempting to prevent the kidnapping of Chinese intelligence officers at Guangping, a small town on the 1300km frontier.

An officer at Yanbian PLA base later said: “We have designated him as a model soldier.” A series of 30 articles about him is being published in the army newspaper.

The officer said the kidnappers eventually escaped without their targets: “North Koreans crossing the border to smuggle, rob or beg are quite common here.”

Li Jiehua, the father of the dead soldier, said that he had been told the North Koreans were intending “to kidnap Chinese intelligence agents responsible for North Korean information, who were based in a villa in Guangping”.

The Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, in Hong Kong, said that China had protested to the North Korean ambassador in Beijing and insisted that Pyongyang hand over those responsible for the shooting.

But North Korea failed to respond and, the centre said, “the relationship between the two armies has deteriorated rapidly”.

Incursions and kidnappings by North Korean soldiers have become so common that in the main Chinese border-crossing city of Dandong, people joke: “Don’t say anything against North Korea, or you’ll find yourself there tomorrow.”

Early this year, eight North Korean soldiers attempted to rob the Liangshui coalmine in the Yanbian border area. One was shot dead, three were captured and four escaped. China is building a substantial barbed-wire fence along sections of the border, including a road giving easy access for military vehicles.

Asia Week cited a senior PLA official in Beijing as saying: “North Korea will turn out to be a running dog, and will sell China off at any time, as soon as the US agrees to talk directly with them.’ It would instead place a higher priority on deals with the US, Russia and Japan.

The Beijing-aligned Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po reported that after the nuclear test, all leave was canceled for PLA troops in the Jilin province, which borders North Korea, and anti-chemical warfare training had been stepped up.

After North Korea conducted missile tests in July, the PLA deployed an extra 2000 troops along the border, boosting the force to 7000. Despite the tensions, the official China Daily newspaper reported on Thursday that “life seems to be going on as normal” at Dandong, less than 150km from the nuclear test site.

North Korean H-Bomb?

17 October 2006: Over the course of the past week there have been enough reports and credible rumors circulating just below the surface to make the following assessment and forecast of near-term possibilities or probabilities:

1.) The now offically acknowledged nuclear test conducted by North Korea a week ago yesterday was actually a test of the first-stage of a two stage hydrogen bomb. The sub-kiloton blast is assessed to have been a complete success.

2.) The much-rumored upcoming test is expected or anticipated in US military cirlces to be a test of both stages of a hydrogen warhead.  The consensus is that North Korea plans to test its hydrogen bomb as soon as possible, possibly sometime this week.

One military source has stated the possibility that a combined missile test and h-bomb test might occur, with the warhead detonating in the upper regions of the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.  The same source also suggests that Red China has been very embarrassed by the first North Korean nuclear test. To mitigate or prevent further embarrassment the Red Chinese are rumored to be covertly seeking the assassination or overthrow of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il.

Additional details will be provided as they are developed.