Unavoidable nuclear test by North Korea, China’s unwillingness and inability to assist Winner: Victor Cha

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Washington: A North Korean nuclear test might be inevitable while China, despite its perceived influence in Pyongyang, may be unwilling to help prevent such a test from taking place, former US nuclear negotiator Victor Cha said.

Cha also insisted that Beijing may not have the means to prevent North Korea from conducting a nuclear test even if it wanted to in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency.

“I think it’s inevitable. I think its seventh nuclear test is inevitable and I think another Hwasong-17 (intercontinental ballistic missile) test using a solid fuel propeller, I think that’s inevitable because, in the New Year speech, they said that,” said Cha, currently a senior vice president and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

North Korea test-fired its largest Hwasong-17 ICBM in November, as part of its record 69 ballistic missile launches in 2022 alone. Its previous annual record of ballistic missile launches was 25. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said his country will work to secure an “exponential” growth of its nuclear arsenal this year.

“North Korea is a very opaque country, but they seem to be very transparent about their intentions with regard to nuclear weapons because they state them in every new year speech and they have basically done everything they talked about in the new year speeches,” said Cha.

Seoul and Washington have traditionally looked to Beijing to use its widely believed leverage over North Korea to stop Pyongyang from taking any provocative actions.

The former US negotiator in the six-party talks, which included China, Russia, Japan, and both Koreas, argued Beijing may not have as much influence in Pyongyang as it wants others to believe, adding that North Korea’s three-year voluntary lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that.

“But I think the COVID lockdown has shown that China … can’t really do much because even if you sanction them, it doesn’t really do anything.

“They (North Korea) have basically had trade cut off with them (China) for three years and it hasn’t made them more willing to come to the negotiating table,” Cha said.

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