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Will North Korea's 'Day of the Sun' Include a Nuclear Test?

Will North Korea's 'Day of the Sun' Include a Nuclear Test?


By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security

North Korea is set to mark its annual “Day of the Sun” celebration on Saturday, April 15, to commemorate the birthday of the nation’s founder, Kim Il-sung.

Since these annual celebrations began, North Korea has attempted either to launch a missile or, more recently, to detonate a nuclear device.

The global community expresses outrage after each test, but North Korea is already under severe sanctions. A military conflict to remove the regime has long been a non-starter. However, there is some concern that the long-standing approach to North Korea could be shifting.

[Related: Will North Korea Fire a Missile Capable Of Hitting the US Mainland? Probably.]

Trump Orders Carrier Strike Force to Sea of Japan

President Trump recently ordered a strike group led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to the Sea of Japan ostensibly as a show of force. Although Trump called the ships an armada, they are currently just a single strike group.

There are rumors that China has moved approximately 150,000 soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army to the Yalu River along the China-North Korea border. According to one South Korean newspaper, the troops involved include the 16th, 23rd, 39th and 40th Divisions. It appears that this PLA troop movement report comes primarily from a single, unknown source.

The Chinese government has taken questions about military movements, but its answers thus far have fallen short of a full denial. It is important to point out, however, that the PLA does have a permanent contingent of troops stationed near the border to combat smuggling and illegal immigration. Those troop numbers typically hover around 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers. At times, that number can be as high as 70,000 troops.

Trump-Xi Phone Conversation Signals Seriousness of North Korea Actions

The one anomaly that has been verified is the phone call between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Both leaders recently met in Florida and it’s not quite the norm for the two leaders to speak again on the same topic so soon. But with tensions on the Korea peninsula running as high as they are, their telephone conversation is especially noteworthy.

Furthermore, Chinese state media have run several op-eds about the tensions and have called on North Korea to not make matters any worse than they are. Xi spoke in a similar manner calling for a peaceful resolution to the North Korean issue.

If the reports of PLA movements on the border with North Korea are indeed accurate, then China is clearly hedging its bets. Beijing would prefer the status quo to a conventional conflict on its border or a unified Korea allied with the U.S., which would be worse from the Chinese perspective.

How Will Washington Respond to Another North Korean Nuclear Test?

Media reports suggest North Korea is planning another nuclear test soon. If the U.S. naval presence off North Korea is a show of force to dissuade these provocative activities and Pyongyang carries out the test anyway, how will Washington respond?

It’s obvious that if the presence or even the threat of force will not deter the North Koreans, then what options are left to alter their behavior? Trump might feel compelled to use force if the North Koreans refuse to back down. In other words, we could be nearing a zero-sum game, with neither side emerging as a victor.

But one thing that does stand out: only one aircraft carrier strike group was sent to the region when two would be preferable. Granted, there are U.S. forces in the region, but their numbers fall short of the troops needed for any military engagement with North Korea.

This naval show of force might simply be a barometer of regional tensions and could help reassure U.S. allies of Washington’s commitment to the region. One thing is certain, however: China is worried about U.S. intentions in a way Beijing has not been in quite some time. Perhaps this show of force is directed equally at Pyongyang and Beijing.