Nuclear Test Challenges North Korea's Asian Allies
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now we're going to more, now, of the response from three of North Korea's neighbors. One is South Korea, another is China - which Michele mentioned - and a third is Japan, whose prime minister has been traveling through the region. Here's NPR's Louisa Lim.
LOUISA LIM: Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was supposed to be scoring a diplomatic ace, with his ice-breaking visits to Seoul and Beijing. Instead he's flown straight into a crisis with North Korea's nuclear test overshadowing everything.
Mr. SHINZO ABE (Prime Minister of Japan): (Speaking foreign language)
LIM: The South Korean television stations had live programs much of the day, following every development - even as South Korea's military was put on a heightened state of alert.
Mr. ABE: (Speaking foreign language)
LIM: For his part, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the test unpardonable. He said he'd work to find ways to implement a tough resolution. His host, President Roh Moo Hyun, warned the test is what he called a dangerous play that could spark a nuclear arms build-up in Asia. Analyst Peter Beck, from the International Crisis Group in Seoul, says South Korea's policy of engagement is now coming under strain.
Mr. PETER BECK (Analyst, International Crisis Group): The nuclear test has put more pressure than ever before on Seoul to reconsider its policy of engagement towards the North. And so, for the first time you're seeing serious discussion by the Korean government, putting a halt to the two pillars of cooperation with the North - a special economic zone and a tourism project - which have both been cash cows for North Korea.
Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)
LIM: China's response was fast and furious. A short statement from the normally sedate foreign ministry was aired on the midday news. It denounced North Korea's nuclear test as brazen. It's deeply embarrassing for Beijing that Pyongyang has again expressly ignored warnings from its old ally.
Shi Yinhong from Renmin University, says the strong wording of the statement is significant.
Mr. SHI YINHONG (Renmin University): This reflect China's angry. You angry (Unintelligible). At same time, I think that this statement also reflect China's anxiety.
LIM: Beijing's now facing an immense foreign policy dilemma. Its relationship with Pyongyang was once as close as lips and teeth. It still provides 70 percent of North Korea's food and fuel aid and may be under pressure to stop that.
Shen Dingli from Fudan University, says this nuclear test shows the failure of the last decade of Chinese foreign policy towards North Korea. Yet, he says, the continued aid to North Korea, which he referred to as the DPRK, has served an important purpose for the Chinese by keeping a buffer between themselves and South Korea.
Mr. SHEN DINGLI (Fudan University): Providing food, providing lifeline to DPRK is not a simple friendship of help to North Korea. But it's a help to Chinese. We buy our security by paying this. We needed them to survive, with or without nuclear weapon.
LIM: North Korea has long paraded its military prowess. But having said a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable, Beijing will now have to act on its words as the focus shifts to the United Nations. Some Chinese analysts are warning that strict sanctions could cause the collapse of a regime whose economy is already in tatters. Shen Dingli says China must be politically correct in supporting sanctions but must also act with its own national interest in mind.
Mr. DINGLI: So we can design specially tailored technical sanction against the DPRK. And we may apply limited economic sanctions, but we need to be very careful, if excessive sanction would lead either their country to collapse, that or an instability on the peninsula. First (unintelligible) to make us feel the pressure of refugee.
LIM: That plan is unlikely to satisfy those calling for tough punitive action. China, and the rest of the world, now has a delicate balancing act ahead. One sad fact however, is certain, the victims will be North Korea's people, who've long suffered under a policy putting the army first. They'll be facing the prospect of a long, cold, hungry winter, with international aid supplies dwindling as a result of their government's provocative actions.
Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.