North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site appears “primed and ready” for the country’s sixth atomic test, an analysis by a U.S. research organization said amid growing concerns over Pyongyang’s weapons programs.
The influential 38 North website, a project of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said Wednesday that commercial satellite imagery of the site taken the same day showed “continued activity around the north portal, new activity in the main administrative area, and a few personnel around the site’s command center.”
But South Korean military officials said there have been “no unusual” signs detected in connection with reports of nuclear or missile tests, the South’s Yonhap news agency reported Thursday.
“There has been no unusual activity so far,” Yonhap quoted a Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman as saying.
An analysis by 38 North late last month showed a gathering of up to 100 people at the administrative area of the nuclear test site — a level of activity not been seen since January 2013, a month before Pyongyang’s third atomic test.
In a separate report days before that analysis, the group said there were strong suggestions that preparations for a nuclear test were entering their final stages. These included the presence of vehicles and the apparent laying of communications cables at the entrance to an underground test tunnel. The report said water was also being pumped out of the tunnel or being drained downhill, presumably to keep it dry for monitoring or communications equipment.
“The combination of these factors strongly suggests that test preparations are well under way, including the installation of instrumentation,” 38 North said in the earlier report.
U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to rein in the North’s nuclear program and has urged Beijing to use its leverage to bring them to heel.
“You cannot allow a country like that to have nuclear power, nuclear weapons,” Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Wednesday. “That’s mass destruction.”
Amid the ongoing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, there are signs that patience is running out in Beijing.
China’s state-run Global Times newspaper, known for its strident nationalistic tone, said in a surprisingly harsh editorial that a new nuclear test would be a “slap in the face of the U.S. government,” adding that Beijing would not “remain indifferent” to further provocations.
“Presumably Beijing will react strongly to Pyongyang’s new nuclear actions,” the newspaper said, adding there was increasing popular support for “severe restrictive measures that have never been seen before.”
The stark language suggests Beijing, Pyongyang’s only major ally and its economic lifeline, could put a chokehold on the North by restricting oil imports to the North.
“The U.S. is making up its mind to stop the North from conducting further nuclear tests, it doesn’t plan to co-exist with a nuclear-armed Pyongyang,” the paper said.
“Pyongyang should avoid making mistakes at this time,” it added.
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