This is the ‘Korean Peninsula Briefing’, a conversation corner on Saturday that recapitulates the situation on the Korean Peninsula and foreign and security issues over the past week.
We are with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Security and reporter Ji Seong-rim, who is in charge of North Korea issues.
South Korea and the US authorities have been saying with one voice that preparations for North Korea’s nuclear test have been virtually finished for several weeks, and that only the decision of Chairman Kim Jong-un remains.
However, North Korea is still not testing nuclear weapons.
Internally, it looks like they are putting their best efforts to prevent the spread of the epidemic.
According to North Korea’s timetable, it is not yet the time for a nuclear test, but rather, it seems that we are waiting for a more nuclear test.
First of all, let me introduce the main content of what we are going to talk about today.
The US-ROK foreign ministers’ meeting was held in Washington DC on the 13th, local time.
The South Korean and US foreign ministers have warned that if North Korea conducts a nuclear test, it will face a swift and decisive response.
Now, the ROK and US authorities continue to send messages of warning and pressure under the premise that a North Korean nuclear test is imminent, but North Korea is silent.
It has been said that preparations for a nuclear test have been virtually finished for several weeks or even months, but I would like to take a look at the background of why North Korea does not conduct a nuclear test.
A brief introduction to the spread of the corona virus in North Korea, and the recent outbreak of a new infectious disease in South Hwanghae Province, North Korea’s breadbasket, has put an emergency in the North Korean authorities.
The first South Korea-US foreign ministers meeting since the inauguration of the Yun Seok-yeol administration was held in Washington this week, and it is said that the South Korean and US authorities agreed that the North Korean issue, especially the North Korean nuclear issue, is a top priority policy task.
Could you please introduce some important issues related to North Korea during the ROK-U.S. Foreign Ministers’ Meeting?
Foreign Minister Park Jin and US Secretary of State Tony Blincoln said at a press conference after the ROK-US foreign ministers meeting that they would face a swift and decisive response if North Korea conducts a nuclear test.
Following the Korea-US summit held in Seoul on the 21st of last month and the defense ministers meeting held on the occasion of the Asian Security Conference in Singapore last week, the foreign ministers of the two countries also urged North Korea to stop provocations and return to dialogue with one voice.
First of all, Secretary Blincoln said he was concerned about the possibility of North Korea’s seventh nuclear test and was not vigilant, saying that he was in very close contact with South Korea and Japan so that we could respond quickly.
In particular, he warned that the United States is prepared for all emergency situations and is prepared for appropriate short- and long-term military readiness adjustments.
He also predicted that the pressure will continue and intensify until North Korea changes course and engages in diplomacy and dialogue.
Meanwhile, Minister Park Jin diagnosed that North Korea has completed preparations for a nuclear test and that only a political decision remains.
He emphasized that North Korea’s provocations, including nuclear tests, will face a coordinated response from the ROK and the United States and the international community, resulting in more deterrence, international sanctions and isolation.
Minister Park also said that the ROK and the U.S. decided to reactivate the Extended Deterrence Strategy Consultative Group (EDSCG) at an early stage.
Restarting the extended deterrence strategy council is a promise made by President Yoon Seok-yeol, and it was also agreed upon at the Korea-US summit last month.
He also emphasized that China should play a positive role in persuading North Korea.
The South Korean and US foreign ministers reaffirmed their intention to provide humanitarian aid, including vaccines, to North Korea, where COVID-19 is spreading, and urged North Korea to respond to the intention to provide aid.
It is said that if North Korea conducts a nuclear test, it will be conducted in Tunnel 3 of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site.
If all preparations for Tunnel 3 are complete, should I assume that a nuclear test will be carried out right away?
Yes, first, let me explain the tunnels of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
North Korea’s past six nuclear tests were all conducted in an underground tunnel in Punggye-ri, Gilju-gun, North Hamgyong Province.
In North Korea, the official name is ‘Northern Nuclear Test Site’.
There are a total of 4 tunnel entrances in Punggye-ri.
Tunnel 1, extending to the east, was used for North Korea’s first nuclear test, but was abandoned prematurely due to radioactive contamination.
Five nuclear tests, from the 2nd to the 6th, were conducted in Tunnel 2, which North Korea calls the ‘North Pit’.
Tunnel 3, which North Korea calls the ‘south gang’ and the ‘west gang’, are still unused.
At that time, North Korea blew up the entrances of Tunnels 2, 3, and 4, except for Tunnel 1, which had already been abandoned.
Tunnel 3, which bombed the entrance at that time, was restored by North Korea this time.
Of course, it was restored for a nuclear test.
However, the US Center for Strategic and International Studies recently analyzed satellite images of the Punggye-ri area and said that North Korea seems to have completed the maintenance of Tunnel 3, and said that new ‘construction activities’ are observed in Tunnel 4.
The point where the new trend was detected was where the road was lost due to heavy rain last year, and our military is judging it as an activity for road restoration.
Although it is not yet in the stage of excavating the tunnel, it seems that the road is being repaired ahead of the tunnel restoration, as the Institute for Strategic and International Studies revealed that construction materials were piled up near the entrance to the tunnel 4.
So, if construction personnel have moved to Tunnel 4, that is, tunnel 3 has been completely restored, can we conduct a nuclear test today or tomorrow? no.
As North Korea has announced a five-year plan to strengthen its defense capabilities, nuclear tests will be conducted not once, but two or three more times.
So, after all of the 3rd tunnel was restored, it was moved to the 4th shaft.
for the next nuclear test.
By the way, tunnel excavation is done by professional construction workers, that is, engineers.
These people aren’t doing nuclear tests.
After the engineers complete the maintenance of the tunnels, nuclear scientists prepare for nuclear tests.
Regardless of the preparations for the nuclear test in Tunnel 3, the engineers have completed their mission to restore Tunnel 3, so they moved on to the next goal, Tunnel 4.
So, it is unreasonable to assume that a nuclear test will be carried out immediately just because the restoration of Tunnel 3 is complete.
In order to conduct a nuclear test, ventilation is necessary after excavation, and the nuclear warhead to be used for the explosion test must be placed deep in the tunnel to fix it, and various observation equipment and cables that give electric signals must be connected.
After all these preparatory work is done, the tunnel is backfilled.
When all preparations for a nuclear test are completed, a report is made to the upper management, and a report is made to Kim Jong-un and, upon final approval, command and control personnel arrive at the site and a nuclear test is carried out.
However, it is reported that North Korea has not yet started backfilling the 3rd tunnel.
It is not known whether the nuclear warhead was placed in the tunnel or whether observation equipment and cables were installed.
Also, the most important thing in a nuclear test is a detonator that explodes by stimulating the nuclear material together with the nuclear material.
There was also an announcement from the presidential office that North Korea is currently testing the operation of a nuclear detonator, but it is not known whether the detonator test was successful.
To the extent that a nuclear test can be successful only when the detonator is in perfect working order, there is a possibility that North Korea may not be able to conduct a nuclear test because it has not yet succeeded in testing the detonator.
Even if all these processes went smoothly and preparations for a nuclear test were completely completed, there are other variables such as weather conditions, the internal situation in North Korea, and the planting of Kim Jong-un.
Since Chairman Kim Jong-un’s decision is the most important, he will of course decide the nuclear test schedule according to his mental state or his own plan.
Whether the nuclear test can win public opinion is also an important factor.
But what specifically are weather conditions variables?
Yes, the most important weather condition, namely the weather variable, is rain.
Experts diagnose that even if North Korea has completed all preparations, it is highly likely that it will not conduct a nuclear test during the upcoming rainy season.
I heard this from Lee Chun-geun, an emeritus research fellow at the Institute for Science and Technology Policy, a representative North Korean nuclear issue expert.
First of all, if it rains, there are restrictions on the movement of nuclear test-related equipment, and there is a possibility that electrical devices may malfunction.
In particular, Dr. Lee Chun-geun explained that if radioactivity leaked during a nuclear test, the radioactive materials could dissolve in rainwater and contaminate a wide area where it rains.
So, there must be no lightning 12 hours before the nuclear test, and there must be no rain until 12 hours after the nuclear test.
Also, since the nuclear test is conducted during the day rather than at night, it is a downdraft at night and an updraft during the day.
When conducting a nuclear test like this, it is common sense to avoid the rainy season, but there is another variable called wind.
The southeast wind blows in the summer on the Korean Peninsula.
If radioactivity is leaked in the course of a nuclear test, winds containing microscopic radioactive materials can blow toward China.
So, even if North Korea conducts a nuclear test, there is an observation that it will not do it in the summer.
North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests so far, but never once in the summer.
If you look at the screen, the second nuclear test was conducted in the spring, and the first, fifth, and sixth nuclear tests were conducted in the fall.
The 3rd and 4th nuclear tests were conducted in winter.
When North Korea conducted a nuclear test like this, it avoided the summer months.
“I think it will be difficult for North Korea to conduct a nuclear test in July as well as this month,” said a diplomatic and security source.
The South Korean and American authorities, especially the United States, continue to raise the atmosphere that a North Korean nuclear test is imminent, but some argue that the United States is actually trying to contain China.
Earlier this month, the United States dispatched four B-1B strategic bombers called ‘swans of death’ to Anderson Air Force Base in Guam on the pretext that North Korea’s nuclear test was imminent.
The U.S. explains that if North Korea conducts a nuclear test, it is to quickly deploy it on the Korean Peninsula.
However, there are speculations that the US may have deployed strategic bombers to Guam, near China, for fear that China might invade Taiwan while the US was preoccupied with the Ukraine-Russian war.
Since it can’t be publicly called ‘to contain China’, I’m guessing it’s not meant to be described as ‘preparation for North Korea’s nuclear test’.
A few months ago, there have been signs of North Korea’s preparations for a nuclear test, and the fact that the preparations for a nuclear test have been completed.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the inside of North Korea.
The number of daily new patients in North Korea peaked at about 390,000 in the middle of last month, but has been steadily declining since then, and now stands at 20,000 for the fourth day.
North Korea said that a total of 4.6 million fever patients have accumulated since the end of April, and the cumulative number of patients and new patient statistics can be trusted by the North Korean announcement.
However, the statistics on the death toll and the recovery rate are a little hard to believe.
Even in developed countries with high medical standards, it is difficult to achieve such a low fatality rate and such a high cure rate.
North Korea claims that the cumulative number of patients is 4.6 million, but the cumulative death rate is only 73, and the fatality rate is 0.002%.
In particular, he said that the overall cure rate was 99.2% as of today.
Aside from quarantine, the level of treatment for infectious diseases is quite high, isn’t it?
Should North Korean doctors be considered more skilled than Korean doctors?
Anyway, it’s amazing.
However, they say that other infectious diseases other than Corona are spreading in North Korea, but the North Korean authorities are reacting quite sensitively?
North Korea recently announced that an ‘acute enteric infectious disease’ has occurred in Haeju and Gangnyeong-gun, South Hwanghae Province.
Intestinal infections include things like typhoid, dysentery, and cholera.
The North Korean authorities are very nervous when another infectious disease occurs following Corona 19.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took a quick response, such as sending over-the-counter medicines from his official residence to patients with infectious diseases.
“Comrade Kim Jong-un sent medicines prepared at home to the Haeju Committee in South Hwanghae Province of the Workers’ Party of Korea on June 15 in connection with the outbreak of an acute enteric infectious disease in Haeju, South Hwanghae Province. Take control of the target generation suffering from the epidemic in detail and deliver the medicines quickly. He asked me to give it to him so that I could add even a little bit to the treatment business.”
In the middle of last month, even during the rapid spread of Corona 19, Kim Jong-un donated his over-the-counter medicines, and then sent them to South Hwanghae Province.
The fact that Kim Jong-un is showing sincerity by donating medicines to the residents of South Hwanghae Province after a month seems to be related to the fact that South Hwanghae Province is North Korea’s representative granary and the largest rice producer.
If the spread of the epidemic is not stopped in South Hwanghae Province in time, many farmers will collapse, which will make farming impossible, which could have a decisive adverse effect on food production this year.
Following Kim Jong-un’s donation, Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong, and Cho Yong-won, Ri Il-hwan, and Ri Il-hwan, and other close officials also donated to the party organization to send their home-prepared medicine to patients with infectious diseases in South Hwanghae Province.
Cho Yong-won and Ri Il-hwan are the heads of the Organizational Guidance Department and Propaganda and Agitation Department, which are the most important departments in the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Following the example of these top-ranking officials, all the officials and their families of the Party Central Committee donated medicines, food, and daily necessities to send to patients with infectious diseases.
As such, Chairman Kim and key executives taking the lead in donations for patients seems to be intended to pacify the public sentiment shaken by the outbreak of various infectious diseases.
Since the supreme leader donated medicines, there must be a donation fever in North Korea.
However, it is questionable whether such donations can cure patients faster than the spread of the epidemic.
It seems that it would be a more effective and quick way to import medicines and treatments from outside, or to get support from the international community.
Anyway, according to reporter Ji’s analysis, it is unlikely that North Korea will conduct a nuclear test right now.
What other diplomatic and security issues will be discussed next week?
Reporter Ji, I’ll see you next week.