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North Korea's Political, Economic Gamble

A staff member at Japan's Meteorological Agency points to the measurement of a seismic wave. Officials there say a magnitude-4.9 tremor occurred in the area where Pyongyang officials claim to have conducted the nuclear test.
A staff member at Japan's Meteorological Agency points to the measurement of a seismic wave. Officials there say a magnitude-4.9 tremor occurred in the area where Pyongyang officials claim to have conducted the nuclear test. (By Katsumi Kasahara -- Associated Press)

In effect, Beijing will have to make a difficult decision.

"If China votes for sanctions at the U.N., the China and North Korea relationship will break up," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at People's University in Beijing. "And if the United Nations really passes financial sanctions toward North Korea, the risk of a society collapse of North Korea is high."

For its part, Japan is likely to take an even harder line than before. The country's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, on Monday vowed a tough response, saying he would "immediately consider taking stern measures."

Those are likely to include a ban on millions of dollars' worth of annual remittances sent home by North Korean nationals living in Japan.

But even coupled with sharper sanctions from the United States, analysts say, the pressure brought to bear on North Korea is unlikely to be enough without the full support of Beijing and Seoul.

Analysts say Kim has already succeeded in at least one way. With its declaration of a nuclear test, North Korea has made the price of a military solution to the standoff -- something Bush administration officials had largely dismissed given North Korea's arsenal of ballistic missiles and its million-man army -- even higher. Some suggested Monday that it may already be too late to turn back the clock.

"North Korea's message is that no matter how hard South Korea, Japan, the United States gang up on them, they won't budge," said Seung Joo Baek of the Seoul-based Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. "They want to be recognized as a nuclear power. They are assuming that it is the only thing that will keep them safe. We will have to wait and see if they are right."

Fan reported from Beijing. Special correspondent Joohee Cho in Seoul contributed to this report.


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