Cadres divided on likelihood of fifth nuclear test

Following Kim Jong Un’s announcement at the 7th Worker’s
Party Congress of the intent to pursue the “Byungjin Line,” or parallel
development of nuclear weapons and the nation’s economy, reaffirming the regime’s
determination to pursue nuclear development, sources inside the country report
that a fifth nuclear test may be imminent.

A high-ranking source in Pyongyang confirmed this report,
stating that although the planned date for the fifth nuclear test launch has
yet to be announced, Kim Jong Un appears to be following through on
announcements made during the 7th Party Congress.

“The regime is ready and able to conduct a nuclear test at
any time, which seems even more likely given the related training directives
targeting cadres that were also recently announced,” the source explained,
adding that Kim Jong Un will likely continue to trumpet the regime’s pursuit of
nuclear weapons both domestically and internationally.

Hushed speculation among some Party cadres sees the emphasis
on nuclear weapons as an expression of discontent by the young leader over
China’s active participation in sanctions against the country. Still others
take this point further, claiming that increasingly frayed bilateral ties at
the government level have driven North Korea to seek reprisal against its
longtime ally for “bending to US demands (i.e. sanctions).”

Apparently bolstering Kim Jong Un’s resolve is word
circulating among pockets of senior military cadres, who assert that in the
likely event that China swiftly dispatches a delegation in an attempt to
preclude another nuclear test, North Korea should not bend to the former’s
will. “They see China as looking down on North Korea and want the leadership to
use this opportunity [the nuclear test] to highlight its displeasure,” the
source said, speculating that Kim Jong Un’s order to prepare for the fifth test
is tied to his awareness of these sentiments.

As ever, there are competing interpretations of both the
Party Congress and the recent ordinance to prepare for the nuclear test.
According to a separate high-ranking Party cadre in Pyongyang, who cited sentiments shared
in his circles, Kim Jong Un’s emphasis on economic progress at the Party
Congress illustrates his potential to negotiate over nuclear development with
the international community. This, they think, renders his threats little more
than propaganda and severely diminishes the actual likelihood of a fifth
nuclear test.

“All the talk coming down with concerns about the nuclear
test notwithstanding, the fact is the country is deep into rice-planting season
now, meaning there is no plausible reason for this to erupt into a political
issue for the time being,’ he said, adding, “Moreover, to turn around and carry
out another nuclear test after announcing plans to improve the economy for the
people would further isolate the country and exacerbate domestic
dissatisfaction with the leadership.” 

They are also concerned that such an event will result in
North Korea suffering disproportionately, and therefore predict that if North
Korea takes up its usual posturing, it may ultimately end up “trying to
extricate itself from the situation with its tail between its legs.” 

Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to