Escalations continue in the Hermit Kingdom, and this time we even have a reaction from China, although it’s relatively mild. Yesterday, the US announced it would send a guided-missile destroyer to the Korean peninsula in response to the “bellicose rhetoric” coming from Pyongyang. During my show yesterday, I pointed out that this would provoke a reaction from the DPRK, and it didn’t take long for the Kim regime to prove me correct:
North Korea vowed Tuesday to restart a nuclear reactor that can make one bomb’s worth of plutonium a year, escalating tensions already raised by near daily warlike threats against the United States and South Korea.
The North’s plutonium reactor was shut down in 2007 as part of international nuclear disarmament talks that have since stalled. The declaration of a resumption of plutonium production — the most common fuel in nuclear weapons — and other facilities at the main Nyongbyon (also spelled Yongbyon) nuclear complex will boost fears in Washington and among its allies about North Korea’s timetable for building a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach the United States, technology it is not currently believed to have.
A spokesman for the North’s General Department of Atomic Energy said that scientists will begin work at a uranium enrichment plant and a graphite-moderated 5 megawatt reactor, which generates spent fuel rods laced with plutonium and is the core of the Nyongbyon nuclear complex.
There has always been some question as to the extent of the 2007/8 “shutdown” of Yongbyon. Kim Jong-il blew up the reactor vent in June 2008, but threatened to restart the reactor three months later and tossed out IAEA inspectors. “Disablement” restarted a month after that, but six months later the elder Kim again announced his intention to restart Yongbyon — and a month after that in May 2009, the nuclear-bomb tests began.
CNN notes the ambiguity in their breaking-news report this morning:
China finally issued a statement of “regret,” albeit non-specific regret, and not regret outside of the normal press management cycle:
China’s Foreign Ministry expressed regret on Tuesday that North Korea will restart all nuclear facilities, including its shuttered Yongbyon nuclear reactor.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei made the comments at a daily news briefing.
The US played another chess move instead of worrying about regret:
The U.S. Navy is moving a sea-based radar platform closer to North Korea to track possible missile launches, a Pentagon official said Monday, in the latest step meant to deter the North and reassure South Korea and Japan that the U.S. is committed to their defense.
The sea-based X-band radar, a self-propelled system resembling an oil rig, is heading toward the Korean peninsula from Pearl Harbor, the official said. The John S. McCain, a guided missile destroyer capable of shooting down ballistic missiles, also is being sent to the region, said another Defense Department official.
Four years ago almost to the day, the Obama administration left this radar platform tied to the dock while North Korea tested its long-range ballistic missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. Its deployment this time suggests that the next missile test from the DPRK will be a test of our missile defense system, too. It’s also a message from the White House that they are taking this escalation a lot more seriously than they did in 2009.