World Leaders Condemn North Korea Nuclear Test
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The announcement of North Korea's nuclear test has produced condemnation around the world and calls for urgent action by the United Nations Security Council. China described the test as a flagrant act which it strongly condemns. Russia joined in the condemnation, saying the test threatens the nuclear nonproliferation process. There are more strong statements from the United States, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair called it a completely irresponsible act.
We're going to go now to London to NPR's Rob Gifford, who covered China and North Korea for six years, and he's on the line. And Rob, how much of a nightmare has this very possibility been, a nuclear test by North Korea? How much of a nightmare has that been for North Korea's neighbors over the years?
ROB GIFFORD: Oh, I think it's been a huge concern, Steve, for many years. I think it's been a source of great uncertainty and instability. I think one of the main problems, of course, is the lack of options that people have. There's obviously - there's not really a possibility of a military option from the U.S. or anyone else, because Seoul and Tokyo are within range of North Korean missiles. I think the Chinese have been crucial, but in a way the Chinese have been in the biggest dilemma, because the Japanese and the South Koreans, in their alliance with the United States have had a fairly clear line to take. The Chinese are supposedly an ally with the North Koreans, and yet they seem to have lost any influence over North Korean behavior.
So it's really been a very difficult situation for all of the countries in Northeast Asia. I suppose from one point of view at least it makes it a lot clearer now, where North Korea stands, and perhaps people can now firm up their opinions and their policies towards the North.
INSKEEP: Well, speaking as someone who knows China so well, what are some possible scenarios for China to follow in the coming days and weeks?
GIFFORD: Well, I think North Korea actually could barely survive if the Chinese decided to close them down. Chinese oil, Chinese food, all sorts of things still flow across the border with North Korea. The question is, though, for the Chinese, would you rather have a nuclear North Korea or a collapsed North Korea? And that's the key question in many ways for many countries in the region, especially China. And the possibility of a collapsed North Korea is so, so dangerous for the Chinese that they have decided to continue supplying the North Koreans with oil and food across the border.
Now we need to be looking to see whether the Chinese actually turn off the tap on the North Korean border, perhaps to make a point, perhaps for some sort of long term policy change, in order to really squeeze the North Koreans, which they really can do. My sense is, though, that the Chinese still fear a collapsed North Korea, and if they cut off anything, any kind of drip feeds to keep this nation alive - you'll remember hundred of thousands of North Koreans have starved to death in the last decade - if they do that, then they could create even more problems for themselves, with all the instability that a possibility of collapse in North Korea could bring.
INSKEEP: Obviously it's hard to gauge what North Korea is thinking, but as much as you've been able to over the years, how much have U.S. actions, such as the invasion in Iraq, factored into North Korea's actions?
GIFFORD: As you say, it's very difficult to know what the North Koreans are thinking, but after President Bush made his axis of evil speech a few years ago, I think the North Koreans got very, very worried, and then when Iraq was actually invaded, they got even more worried. And I think probably one of the main lessons they took away from the invasion of Iraq was, if you don't have nuclear weapons and you're on the axis of evil, you may well get invaded, and I think that definitely has played into North Korea's urgency to actually get the bomb and now to test it.
INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much. That's NPR's Rob Gifford in London. You're listening to NPR News.