North Korea has restarted plutonium production, Reuters reports:
The U.S. assessment came a day after the U.N. nuclear watchdog said it had “indications” that Pyongyang has reactivated a plant to recover plutonium from spent reactor fuel at Yongbyon, its main nuclear complex.
The latest developments suggest North Korea’s reclusive regime is working to ensure a steady supply of materials for its drive to build warheads, despite tightened international sanctions after its fourth nuclear test in January.
The development does not come as a suprise; Pyongyang vowed in 2013 to restart all nuclear facilities, including Yongbyon, which was shut down in 2007 as part of a now-defunct international disarmament-for-aid deal. Ultimately, despite much press and pressure, regional powers and the United States are clearly failing to convince the North Korean leadership to abandon its commitment to improving its nuclear capabilities.
This is a frustrating turn of events for South Korea, Japan, and the United States, but it’s likely to be especially problematic for China. North Korean belligerence either demonstrates that China isn’t willing to strong-arm North Korea, or it is an embarrassing exhibition of Beijing’s limitations. The optics are especially bad given that President Xi Jinping reportedly patched things up with North Korea at a private meeting in Beijing last week.
Moreover, the reactivation and nuclear tests which are likely to follow will only push Tokyo and Seoul into each other’s arms. It is not good for China that its neighbors are getting closer to Washington and each other instead of seeking Beijing out as the best hope for managing the Kim regime. At this point, it’s increasingly clear that Beijing’s relationship with the North Korean regime has turned from a qualified strategic asset into a serious liability.