SEOUL – North Korea is preparing to conduct a nuclear test or a long-range ballistic missile test during President Biden’s visit to the region this week, according to intelligence from Washington and Seoul.
Seoul’s National Intelligence Service has also identified preparations for nuclear and missile tests in the north, South Korean lawmaker Ha Tai-keung said after a briefing by intelligence agencies on Thursday.
“Despite the coronavirus situation [in North Korea]”There are indications that a missile is being launched,” Ha told reporters. “The country is also preparing for a nuclear test and is waiting for the right time.”
Widely unaccounted for, North Korea has declared a “serious national emergency” since its first official Cowid-19 case was reported in the country last week. Due to the lack of testing capacity, the actual scale of the outbreak in the isolated country is unclear, but the state media has estimated about 2 million potential cases.
Pyongyang has rejected offers of coronavirus assistance from Seoul and Washington, South Korea’s national security adviser Kim Tae-hyeo said in a briefing on Wednesday. In light of Pyongyang’s non-response, it is difficult to discuss North Korea’s assistance at the upcoming summit between Biden and South Korean President Eun Sook-eol, he said.
“If North Korea conducts a long-range missile or nuclear test during Biden’s visit to Seoul, it indicates a deliberate provocation to seek a waiver from Washington,” said Yang Mu-jin, a professor at Seoul’s North Korean Studies University.
During a summit in 2019, former President Donald Trump rejected North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s demand for lifting sanctions in exchange for disarmament measures. North Korea has rejected Washington’s offer of nuclear talks and has stepped up its weapons testing activities.
While North Korea sees the presidential summit between South Korea and the United States as a new opportunity to provoke, it is unclear whether the country currently has the bandwidth to conduct nuclear or long-range missile tests, Young said. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week called for a “nationwide war on epidemics to fight a serious public health crisis” and even mobilized national military forces to help deliver medicine to Pyongyang.
Analysts say North Korea’s nuclear test will hit a bitter note in an international effort to provide the virus-infected country with vaccines, drugs and other assistance.
North Korea sees China as the most preferred donor for coronavirus aid, says Ha, lawmaker. He said the United States and South Korea would seek North Korea’s help from the last countries.
If North Korea makes a serious provocation during President Biden’s three-day visit to South Korea, the two allies could turn into a “Plan B” that could change the summit’s schedule, said National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hye.
Biden is due to land in South Korea on Friday to begin his Asia tour, which will focus on strengthening US ties with its Asian allies amid growing competition from China.