Following its third nuclear test earlier this month, North Korea’s state media have churned out reports that call the country a nuclear-armed state, in an apparent bid to gain international recognition as a de facto nuclear power like India and Pakistan.
On Monday, the Rodong Sinmun, the daily of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, boasted of its possession of nuclear arms while expressing pleasure over its athlete’s winning a gold medal at an Asian marathon.
On that day alone, more than 10 news reports referred to the country as a nuclear power. The figure sharply increased after Pyongyang conducted its underground atomic test at its northeastern Punggye-ri site on Feb. 12.
Last Sunday, the first full-moon day of the year, the Korean Central Television reported that people spent a happy full-moon day while taking pride in their country “presenting to the world its nuclear-power status.”
Analysts believe the recent atomic test, coupled with its December launch of a long-range missile, has brought the North much closer to its long-cherished status as a nuclear power.
By capitalizing on its various mouthpieces, including its online tools, Pyongyang apparently seeks to form and spread a discourse that would help it gain recognition as a de facto nuclear power, they pointed out.
“It is forging an environment in which it can reinforce its claim to being a de facto nuclear power just like India and Pakistan,” said Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea expert at Korea University.
“Pyongyang might also intend to send a message to the U.S. that it wants to hold talks over mutual nuclear arms reduction, on the premise that it is a nuclear power, or over peace talks on that premise.”
Internally, Pyongyang might have used the media with an emphasis on its “nuclear deterrence” to further strengthen the fledgling leadership and boost the morale of the ruling elite, Yoo added.
Some experts raised the possibility that Pyongyang might use its nuclear-power status to readjust its relationship with China, which it might think is not fair due to its heavy economic reliance on its only major patron.
“Pyongyang could seek to show off its nuclear power to China and reset bilateral ties, thinking that Beijing might have thought that it could handle the North as it pleased due to its hefty economic assistance,” said Ahn Chan-il, director of the World North Korea Research Center.
“The impoverished North could think its national pride was trampled upon by China and that the bilateral relationship should change as it claims to have become a nuclear-armed state.”
Already under severe isolation caused by its missile and nuclear tests that violated U.N. resolutions, Pyongyang is known to receive from China some 300,000-400,000 tons of grain and 500,000 tons of oil each year. The North’s annual food shortage amounts to around 800,000 tons while its annual oil consumption is around 1 million tons.
Ahn predicted that Pyongyang would push for economic reform having already shored up its military with nuclear arms.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com