The Game Behind North Korea’s Fifth and Largest Nuclear Test

On September 9th, North Korea completed their fifth and largest nuclear test, just fifty miles from the Chinese border. The test was the second this year and a clear example of the increased pace in nuclear trials that Kim Jong Un has been pushing since he inherited power in 2011. The US has attempted to slow this rapidly increasing progression of tests by imposing sanctions and as of July 2016 deploying an advanced missile defense system in South Korea, however, the tests have continued to ensue and now the US is considering placing an embargo on North Korea. According to the Economist, this most recent nuclear test triggered a 5.3 magnitude earthquake throughout the Northeast of China, and yet there was little to no media coverage given to it on China’s behalf. It seems strange that a country so economically entangled with and geographically close to North Korea would disregard a test of this magnitude. Upon closer inspection however, China’s strategic move in ignoring Pyongyang’s nuclear test is what is keeping China free of North Korean refugees and a nuclear-armed enemy. In an article by the New York Times, the point is made that “China sees living with a Communist-ruled nuclear-armed state on its border as preferable to the chaos of its collapse.” Since the US has implemented the defense system in South Korea, the fall of the North Korean regime would not only mean the creation of a unified Korean front, but an armed unified Korean nation, making China is even less inclined to cooperate than before. Without China’s cooperation in the sanctions however, the US’ attempts will essentially be useless because China will always be capable of offering loopholes for coal and oil supply as well as new business partners. So the question then becomes, if the US’ sanctions are futile without cooperation from China, and North Korea is rapidly increasing their nuclear arms testing and claiming that they are capable of making it to America, what are the options left? Some argue China should cut oil supply, while others say China should be more rigorous in applying the UN sanctions they voted for earlier this year. Either way, it appears that the US is temporarily out of moves until China decides it wants to take its turn in this dangerous game with North Korea.

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