DEBORAH AMOS, host:

North Korea's neighbors have reacted with alarm to yesterday's announcement: plans to conduct a nuclear test. South Korea expressed grave concern, and Japan called the nuclear test unacceptable. China, considered a North Korean ally, called for restraint and said North Korea should not take actions that escalate tensions.

Joining me now from Shanghai is NPR's Louisa Lim. Good morning.

LOUISA LIM: Good morning.

AMOS: The Chinese statement is somewhat mild. Does that reflect Beijing's true position on North Korea's intensions?

LIM: Actually, no, it doesn't. I mean, publicly that China's still behaving very much as North Korea's old ally. But privately, analysts here say the Chinese are getting very fed up and very frustrated with North Korea. Back in July, North Korea ignored Chinese pleas not to carry out a missile test. And that was very embarrassing for the Chinese, because it was a real demonstration of the limits of their influence. And now, it appears that the distrust is also going both ways.

AMOS: Why are the North Koreans making these threats now? They didn't say when they would try to test a weapon.

LIM: Yes, well this comes after the missile tests in July really failed to achieve their objective. The North Koreans wanted to get the U.S. to sit down in direct bilateral talks about these economic sanctions that they have on North Korea which have it the country very hard. Now, after the missile tests, this strategy failed. And now, of course, North Korea's upping the ante by suggesting nuclear tests. And some analysts are suggesting perhaps it sees it has nothing to lose, because in terms of sort of political economic punishments, there's not a lot that Washington or Tokyo could do that they're not already doing.

So this - I mean, but again, it's another example of North Korea's idiosyncratic way of carrying out diplomatic relations by using threat and bluster. And you can't forget that they sometimes do act on their threats. So it may not be empty bluster.

AMOS: Louisa, I read this morning that there is an economic dimension to this, that the North Koreans are angry with the United States. Can you tell us about that?

LIM: The United States have been carrying out a series of financial measures, which is really putting the squeeze on the North Koreans. They're trying to limit access to sources of foreign currency for the North Koreans. And, of course, this type of targeted sanctions are being reasonably effective because they're targeting those with money. So it's the ruling part of the regime. Reports from North Korea say that their regime is really suffering, and that's one of the reasons why they would like to have direct talks with the U.S. now.

AMOS: And they would threaten a nuclear test simply as a negotiating ploy over that?

LIM: Well, North Korea has a long history of using unusual negotiating tactics. For example, the missile tests that we saw in July. But it's also the case that they don't have an awful lot of other negotiating tactics. So far, the U.S. have completely refused to talk to them. And although to the rest of the world they seem to be backing themselves in to a corner, from a North Korean perspective, this tactic has a very long history.

AMOS: Thank you.

LIM: Thank you.

AMOS: NPR's Louisa Lim in Shanghai.

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