As Tokyo keeps watch for another nuclear test by Kim Jong Un’s defiant regime, activity has been detected near North Korea’s nuclear test site ahead of the anniversary of its Workers’ Party on Monday.
According to information published Thursday on the 38 North website, maintained by the U.S.-Korea Institute at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, recent satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site from Oct. 1 indicates there is sustained activity at all three tunnel complexes at the site, an indication that there could be another nuclear test almost a month after the country’s fifth such test.
“The purpose of this activity is also unclear, although the portal is assumed to be capable of supporting a nuclear test once a decision is made to move forward,” said the website.
The website also said that Pyongyang might be collecting data from the previous nuclear test as the imagery shows a large vehicle as well as what appears to be large boxes of materials near the main building where the nuclear test was conducted last month.
The image also shows mining carts and apparent vehicle tracks on the spoil pile, although tunnel excavation work does not seem to have resumed, the website said. But some maintenance might have been conducted as the image captured what appears to be a group of people standing near one of the portal entrances.
On Friday Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said that another act of provocation cannot be ruled out and that Tokyo plans to closely monitor the situation in cooperation with the U.S. and South Korea.
The signs of a potential nuclear test overlap with the North’s escalating provocative rhetoric ahead of the country’s key event on Monday.
Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday warned that the U.S. will face a “shuddering reality” in the near future for targeting the people of North Korea. It also criticized U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration, calling them “rogues” for ignoring international law, bullying countries that refuse to obey the U.S., and imposing sanctions.
The North’s defiant comments also come as the United States has been increasing its pressure on the hermit nation and working with other countries, including China, the North’s largest economic partner, to impose tougher U.N. sanctions.
The U.S. Treasury Department also recently sanctioned a Chinese industrial machinery and equipment wholesaler that is accused of acting on behalf of a North Korean company that has been under U.S. and U.N. sanctions.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is scheduled to conduct joint military drills with South Korea off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula starting from Monday.
In a development related to Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida denied a local media report Friday that Foreign Ministry officials and their counterparts secretly met in China last month to discuss the abduction issue.
Kishida reiterated that words have to be followed by action. But he also emphasized the importance of dialogue in order to solve the issue, and that Japan upholds the so-called Stockholm agreement of 2014, in which Japan agreed to lift part of sanctions in exchange for a thorough investigation of the abductees by the North.
Solving the abductee issue is one of the diplomatic priorities for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but the North suspended investigations after Japan imposed fresh sanctions against Pyongyang in February.
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