China, Japan, and South Korea agreed not to “accept further nuclear tests or provocations from North Korea,” according to a May 13 statement by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Lee issued the statement from Beijing at the end of a trilateral meeting in May, which included a discussion of Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
North Korea is believed to be preparing for a nuclear test at its Punggye-ri test site, following a failed attempt to launch a satellite into orbit with a Unha-3 rocket in April. (See ACT, May 2012.) It has conducted two previous nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009.
Although Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao did not directly mention North Korea in his statement at the end of the meeting, he said that all parties in the region needed to “display goodwill” to “ease confrontation and return to the right track of dialogue and negotiations.”
Despite the ambiguity of Wen’s statement, China is reportedly working behind the scenes to urge North Korea not to detonate a nuclear device and is considering retaliatory steps if Pyongyang moves forward with the test, according to a May 16 Reuters report. The news service quoted several sources as saying that China was concerned that a third test would give the United States greater cause to increase its military presence in the region and would cause environmental damage along the Chinese-North Korean border. The sources also said that Beijing would consider sanctioning North Korea in response to a nuclear test.
According to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, “a military measure such as a nuclear test” was not planned around the failed launch, but the country would “bolster” its nuclear deterrence for self-defense against “hostile policy.”
Some analysts predict that North Korea will use highly enriched uranium in the anticipated test to demonstrate progress in its uranium-enrichment capabilities. The earlier tests used plutonium.