BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: Mark Urban
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China in the driving seat over North Korea

Mark Urban | 15:49 UK time, Tuesday, 26 May 2009

North Korea is once more trying to mug the international community - by using nuclear weapons as an "or else" in its attempts to get more cash.


The country has such poorly developed ties with other countries that it might be argued the best response is to ignore the latest atomic test and complete the isolation of Kim Jong-il's regime.

The timing of a ballistic missile test in April and the weekend's nuclear blast may be connected with the arrival of a new US president. Certainly the Pyongyang government has jettisoned nuclear understandings before - having apparently agreed to renounce nuclear weapons projects under former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush.

Could it be that with each new White House incumbent, the North Korean leadership wants to see if it can get a better deal? The motivation appears to be to get more financial or aid compensation for halting the nuclear programme.

One thing you can say for Kim's people is that they seem to be improving their technology. The latest blast, the country's second known test, was assessed by Russian defence officials to have been caused by a Hiroshima-sized atomic bomb of up to 20 kilotons, whereas the first went off with a force of only around 1kt.

Missile technology has come on too - with April's launch being described as a satellite launch vehicle - a significant technological hurdle (although Western experts believe the rocket failed).

These latest provocations have drawn condemnation from the United Nations Security Council. China - the only country with any real leverage over North Korea voted for the resolution and criticised Kim's government outside the council too. Some commentators suggest that the council will be too divided to vote for additional sanctions against North Korea.

This case though is not like those other perennially difficult bits of Security Council business - such as Iran, Zimbabwe and Sudan - where Chinese or Russian backing for a regime not to America's liking paralyses collective action.

The North Korean economy is in such desperate straights - with millions on the brink of starvation - that nobody is enthusiastic for further sanctions. Even the kind of "smart sanctions" tried against leadership figures or banks would have little effect on North Korea - their leaders hardly travel, and their banks do no international business to speak of.

There's another respect in which the North Korean diplomatic equation is different. China was a central party in the Six Nation agreement to de-nuclearise North Korea that Kim is now flouting.

This makes it harder for anyone to driver a wedge between China, the US and other countries but also effectively puts China in the driving seat over what should be done next.


  • Comment number 1.



    What if they call for Bush and Blair to answer for their crimes, and a large chunk of the world backs them?

    Does Brown's Moral Compass point to Obama's High Ground? That might explain a lot.

    Has anyone noticed the back-pedalling way that BO is pedalling his wares lately? I think he might need a master-class in certainty from his 'first anointed' Tony. Could it be that the 'I have a dream' of his campaign, has turned to 'I have a nightmare' - in office/

  • Comment number 2.


    isn't that imperialist rhetoric?

    there seems to be some divine rightism over who can have certain weapons?

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    its not about who can have certain weapons its about keeping the peace, and north korea seems to acting ireespoinsibly we should not let this continue.

  • Comment number 5.


    They just don't hear themselves bookhimdano. 'Right' was invented by America, resides in that land, and will stop at nothing - NOTHING - to bring itself to all the lesser nations.

    Engendering hate they perform daily - perceptive humility will take a little longer.

  • Comment number 6.

    Many analysts fear that Taiwan is the location where China will one day demonstrate its power to pursue its ambitions without reference to the US or international community. But maybe N Korea offers more promising ground. Any ideological or strategic interests in maintaining this regime are purely historical and can easily be enhanced by an act of superpower regime change. N Korea offers China many advantages as the location to takes its most assertive step yet as the dominant regional power and the global megapower in waiting.

  • Comment number 7.

    Forget about the UN. The organisation is a political eunuch ! It comprises so many disparate viewpoints from so many varied countries, let alone the secret pacts between groups of countries.

    Sanctions of a sort have been agreed. Anything stronger will never happen, and military action against ANY nation is no more than science fiction.

    Undoubtedly communist North Korea is bound to have tie-ups with other communist nations, and there are some mighty and muscular nations on that list.

    North Korea will not be acting alone. This is choreographed and concerted military show casing.

  • Comment number 8.


    Desperate Ground: Ground, on which we can only be saved from destruction by fighting without delay, is desperate ground.

    On desperate ground, fight! And when the men do not hang their cooking pots over the camp-fires, showing that they will not return to their tents, you may know that they are determined to fight to the death. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard. (SOURCE: Sun Tzu, The Art of War.)

    Security Council powers have agreed in principle that North Korea must face expanded sanctions, Western diplomats said on Wednesday. Russia confirmed it supported a new resolution, although it said it was too early to discuss penalties.

    Possible steps include a ban on importing and exporting all arms and not just heavy weapons, asset freezes and travel bans for North Korean officials, and placing more firms on a U.N. blacklist.

    The measures would expand on sanctions approved by the council after Pyongyang's 2006 nuclear test, penalties that have been widely ignored and left unenforced.

    Washington is deeply concerned about North Korea spreading its nuclear technology abroad and the diplomats said cargo inspections were also possible.

    (China, fearing instability in its neighbor, is reluctant to endorse this approach.)

    (SOURCE: Reuters, U.S., South Korea raise military alert on North, By Jon Herskovitz Jon Herskovitz Thu May 28, 2:52 pm ET)

    I find it very odd that the mainstream continues to regard North Korea as a crazy or irrational state. The opposite is true. North Korea is acting in a way that is (very pragmatic) given its international standing and domestic conditions. It is simply wishful thinking to assume North Korea will disarm because others countries have done so in the past. Those countries had many reasons to reverse course North Korea doesnt. (SOURCE: Russia Today, Peter Lavelle's blog, North Korea the inevitable.)


    The (PRC) Peoples Republic of China understand the concept of Desperate Ground, the fact that if you back a rabbit into a corner it will fight. Victory or Death, return either behind your shield in Victory, or upon it in Death, A (very pragmatic) Blitzkrieg Attack as its only option would be the option it will take, if left with no other options.

    The (AIE) American Israeli Empire can not fight in three wars at once Iraq, (Af-Pak) and Korea, with (PTSD) Post-Traumatic, Suicidal Troops. North Korea has the advantage, and the (PRC) will be forced to defend its "Sphere of Influence" against the (AIE), as the (AIE) WILL be forced to provide military and political support by the end of the year to Israeli WHEN prior to (Jan. 1st, 2010), it preemptively attacks The Shi-ite Persian Republic of Iran, to protect its Special Relationship interests.

  • Comment number 9.


    (GATES SAYS) : We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in the region or on us,

    (TRIATHLON SAYS) : So, what is Gates going to do jump up and down, stamp his feet, hold his breath until he turns blue, and have conniption fits, the horse is already out of the barn and headed down the road a little late to be closing that door.

    (GATES SAYS) : We will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state.

    (TRIATHLON SAYS) : So, dont accept it, its like not accepting the fact that you lost, you may not like it but thats the way things go, your just going to have to get over it and live with because unless your willing to put up, you better just shut up!

    (GATES SAYS) : The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States and our allies. And we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action.

    (TRIATHLON SAYS) : Look Gates, you can count on your fingers for all the hot air youre putting out, but when it comes down to truth or consequences, the truth is you havent got any action you can take. Sanctions, give us all a break you tried an embargo on Cuba for almost (50) Fifty years and how did that work out for you? The Hermit Kingdom kicked open the door to your exclusive Nuclear Club, and tore up your nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Iran will be next and then dont look for the Western part of the (AIE) American Israeli Empire to be the only nuclear state in the Western Hemisphere. After the Yankee Raping of Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela, along with the rest of South America, a little Nuclear Arsenal to eliminate the grave threat to them by the North American Yankees would come in handy now days.

    The (AIE) American Israeli Empire does not have enough troops to engage in a war with a theater run, thru the Islamic Crescent (Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) and then into Korea with a Million Man Army, a country under the (PRC) Peoples Republic of Chinas Sphere of Influence and has with the China Sea shown that it is prepared to defend it. The Russian Federation is geared up and prepared to fight over the Caspian Sea Basin, The Pakistan government is increasing its nuclear arsenal, and there nuclear founding father is in talks with Osama Bin Laden, while Benyamin BiBi Netanyahu is planning his own pre-emptive nuclear war before (1st Jan 2010), forcing the (AIE) to provide military and political support for its actions.



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