World News – North Korea appears to be preparing a fourth nuclear test as well as a provocative missile launch, South Korea said Monday, despite an unusually blunt call from China for restraint.
Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae told lawmakers there were “signs” that another test was in the pipeline, with intelligence reports showing heightened activity at the North’s Punggye-ri atomic test site.
“We are trying to figure out whether it is a genuine preparation for a nuclear test or just a ploy to heap more pressure on us and the US,” the JoongAng Ilbo daily cited a senior South Korean government official as saying.
It was the North’s third nuclear test in February and subsequent UN sanctions that kickstarted the cycle of escalating military tensions on the Korean peninsula.
While North Korea has made no secret of the fact that it intends to carry out further nuclear tests, most analysts believe a detonation in the current climate would be a provocative step too far, even for Pyongyang.
“It would just be unbelievably risky,” said Robert Kelly, a political science professor at Pusan National University in South Korea.
“The Americans would freak out, for a start. I think a missile test is far more likely,” Kelly said.
Intelligence reports suggest Pyongyang has readied two mid-range missiles on mobile launchers on its east coast, and is aiming at a test-firing before the April 15 birthday of late founding leader Kim Il-Sung.
Japan has ordered its armed forces to shoot down any North Korean missile headed towards its territory, a defence ministry spokesman in Tokyo said Monday.
A missile launch would still be highly provocative, especially given the strong rebuke the North’s sole ally China handed it at the weekend and a US concession to delay its own planned missile test.
“No one should be allowed to throw a region, even the whole world, into chaos for selfish gains,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told an international forum in southern China on Sunday.
Although he did not mention North Korea by name, Xi’s remarks were taken as a clear warning to the regime in Pyongyang, which is hugely dependent on China’s economic and diplomatic support. Agencies