Fear Of War In China Following North Korean Nuclear Testing

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This week, the official newspaper of the Jilin province issued a warning to its readers, reminiscent of the Cold War. The full page article detailed what citizens of the Northeastern Chinese province should do in the event of a nuclear explosion, in light of North Korea’s recent nuclear tests. Jilin is one of two Chinese provinces that borders the renegade communist dictatorship.

The article published in Jilin Daily, complete with illustrations, offers advice in line with international experts on nuclear fallout. It recommends simple actions like taking a shower and washing shoes to prevent radioactive contamination. The article also lists earthquakes and flashes of light as indications of an imminent nuclear fallout. The article lead to much controversy on Chinese social media. A spokesperson for the newspaper claims that the pieces was purely informative and not meant to comment on the developing situation in North Korea.

Environmental Consequences

Although Jilin province has yet to see radioactive fallout or contamination, as far as we know, they have faced the consequences of North Korea’s nuclear tests. In September, the province was hit with an earthquake presumably set off by North Korea’s hydrogen bomb test on September 3rd. The earthquake, measured at a 6.3 magnitude, raises questions over the long term environmental consequences of North Korea’s nuclear testing.

In North Korea, the tremors caused the collapse of many buildings in nearby towns, where residents had not been warned of the testing, resulting in the death of dozens and the injury of 150 school children, sources say. Farming operations of the already food insecure country were damaged, while locals continue to drink the water that comes from Mount Mantap, the mountain beneath which the nuclear testing took place.

Scientists have warned that further testing could cause the mountain to collapse, a phenomenon called, “Tired Mountain Syndrome.” Tired Mountain Syndrome, caused by underground nuclear testing, is known to result in radioactive contamination. Chinese scientists believe if the mountain were to collapse, radiation could sweep into China.

Last Saturday, the Korean Meteorological Administration (KMA) reported that a 2.5 magnitude earthquake had hit Kilju County in North Korea, just 1.7 miles from the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility. Although the KMA believes the earthquake was natural, an official pointed out that the region does not see natural earthquakes, leading experts to believe that the quake may have been a side effect of the ongoing nuclear testing in the area.

Defectors from Kilju County report a community ravaged by what they call “ghost disease.” The mystery illness is said to cause headaches, vomiting, cancer, and birth defects. Defectors claim that although they had attributed the illness to poverty and malnutrition, on learning about the nuclear testing in the region they are now sure the illness is the result of radioactive contamination. Defectors point to the environmental consequences they witnessed, such as fish dying in the mountain streams, as proof of the harmful effects of the nuclear tests. Some of their claims pre-date known nuclear testing in the area. Scientist have, unfortunately, been unable to corroborate their claims due to a lack of data.

In the US

Jilin Daily isn’t the only organization preparing for radioactive fallout. These concerns have been echoed in the Western United States after North Korea launched a missile test in July. The intercontinental missile was believed to be capable of reaching Hawaii and Alaska. Hawaiian emergency management authorities were quick to issue guidelines on surviving a nuclear disaster.

Last week, Hawaiian authorities announced they would resume testing of their nuclear attack warning system called the Attack Warning Tone, although officials insist the odds of an attack are very low. The Attack Warning Tone is a Cold War era system that had not been tested since the 1990s.

Last Wednesday, North Korea launched a missile they call the Hwasong-15 missile. Experts believe it has a range of over 8,000 miles. If these estimates are correct, all of the United States is within range of the missile. It is important to note that the test missile did not carry a nuclear warhead, which has led analysts to speculate about how far the missile will be able to travel when weighed down and whether or not the Hwasong-15 is capable of preserving a nuclear warhead during the tumultuous reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. Although North Korean authorities insist the Hwasong-15 can reach any target within the United States, when loaded down with a real nuclear warhead, it may only be able to reach the West Coast.

North Korean news agencies report that the launch was celebrated in Pyongyang by civilians and government officials alike with street parties, dancing, and fireworks.

Commercial Interests

The missile, which flew 600 miles in 53 minutes before crashing down in the ocean, was seen by multiple flight crews. Two Korean Air pilots bound for Seoul reportedly saw the missile, while the crew of a Cathay Pacific flight en route to Hong Kong from San Francisco believe they saw the missile make its reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. While Singapore Airlines has already rerouted flights between Seoul and Los Angeles following North Korea’s July nuclear tests, Cathay Pacific does not have any plans to change flight patterns.

The New York Times reports that recents tests have launched missiles outside of North Korea’s airspace. Because Pyongyang does not issue warnings before they launch a missile, analysts believe they may put civilian flights at risk, leading to calls for North Korea to be declared a no-fly zone. Following July’s two launches, Air France declared a no-fly zone policy for North Korea. Whether other airlines will follow suit remains to be seen, but it may impact flights between China, Seoul, and California, major commercial hubs.

Although China is believed to be enforcing UN sanctions against North Korea, they remain the communist dictatorships largest trading partner. Curiously, in the first three quarters of 2017, exports to North Korea increased by 20%, raising questions of whether or not China is doing all they can to prevent a nuclear catastrophe. The Washington based think-tank, the Institute for Science and International Security, reports that 49 countries have violated sanctions against North Korea.

This week, US ambassador to China, Terry Branstad reiterated Washington’s position that the US will not come to the bargaining table with Pyongyang until the rogue regime suspends all future nuclear testing and missile launches.

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