North Korea Ready for Third Nuclear Test

North Korea has finished preparations for their third nuclear test at the Punggye-ri test site and is awaiting the political decision to commence detonation.

Setting off a third nuclear device is a widely expected move for the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea but it’s not one that will do them any favors.

Having already faced condemnation from the West in going ahead with their rocket test in April and rumored to have taken a massive lashing from China during high level meetings in Beijing last week, there seems to be little that North Korea can gain by proceeding with the test. Read more “North Korea Ready for Third Nuclear Test”

Russia Nearing Su-35 Fighter Contract With China

UPI reports from Moscow that Russia and China are nearing a $4 billion deal that would supply China with Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E fighter jets, with one major caveat remaining:

“The sides have practically agreed on the delivery of 48 Su-35 multirole fighters, worth $4 billion, to China,” a Russian Federation Ministry of Defense source told Kommersant business newspaper.

It is not a done deal however, as the Russian Federation is demanding that China guarantee the protection of copyrights on the production of Su-35s without proper licensing.

This author finds immense humor in a world where nations believe China capable of protecting foreign copyrights and patents and can only imagine the SU-35’s various systems being plied open and analyzed before their new birds are even “out of the box.”

Unfortunately, it may behoove Russia to bring this Su-35 deal to fruition, regardless of the ripe potential for technology theft.

Russia and China are making motions to cozy up as allies as the United States turns its attention back toward the Pacific. Providing China with a fighter that;s generally considered superior to the Americans’ F-35 is a massive counter against East Asian nations currently considering purchases of Lockheed Martin F-35s for their countries. This deal would cause quite a sudden uptick in Chinese airpower against its regional neighbors.

And that’s without even factoring in the probability of Su-35 technology being co-opted into Chinese aircraft designs.

As a final note, China has been wanting Su-35s from Russia since the first sign that Russia was ever willing sell them (early 1990s). Things have never properly coalesced. A win by China here would signify a fairly significant change in Russia’s attitude toward its southern neighbor.

This story first appeared at Asia Security Watch, March 6, 2012.

South Korea Strengthens Defense Ties With Saudi Arabia

With South Korea having cut ties to Iranian petrochemical and oil imports after American pressure, it was a forgone conclusion that Seoul would be looking for new suppliers to fill the resulting void.

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak toured the Middle East last week, including stops in both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in hope of brokering agreements to alleviate that recent loss of Iranian crude oil and petrochemical exports, as well as to increase South Korean defense exports to the region.

The trip shapep up to be a successful one for President Lee.

South Korea and Saudi Arabia agreed Wednesday to significantly bolster their defense cooperation to elevate relations in noneconomic sectors to match those of their prospering business ties, an official said Wednesday.

A defense cooperation pact could be signed if and when the Saudi minister visits Seoul, Choe said. If Salman is unable to pay a visit to Seoul, South Korea’s defense minister Kim Kwan-jin will visit Riyadh for talks, the official said.

“The focus of this visit is to lift cooperation in noneconomic areas to the level of the economic sector,” the press secretary said. “What is important is that the two sides agreed to elevate defense cooperation as well to match such a level.”

Choe declined to offer specifics on cooperation in the defense industry but sources said the two sides have been in talks on weapons projects, such as exporting ammunition and howitzers to the Middle Eastern nation.

While howitzers and ammunition aren’t big ticket items in the grand scheme of the $3 billion dollars in arms sales that South Korea is hoping to export in 2012, President Lee headed home with both a pledge from the Saudi government of a secure oil supply and a foot in the door to new venues for South Korean arms exports. His visit has to be considered something of a great success.

It will be interesting to watch South Korea venture further into the region, how they handle the many layered politics of the Middle East, and their ability to balance their growing relationship with Israel and their blossoming ties with other surrounding Middle Eastern nations. It will also be worth noting how far Seoul dives into the region with or without the assistance of the United States, though one can imagine that the ROK won’t be selling arms to states that lack American approval.

Worth watching will also be how these international deals affect President Lee’s popularity in Seoul during his final year in office and the ramifications these developments will have for his party in the coming 2012 elections.

This story first appeared at Asia Security Watch, February 9, 2012.

US Officials Press Korea to Reduce Iranian Imports

For the second time in as many weeks, American officials attempted to sway South Korea’s stance on trade with Iran. Last week in Seoul, South Korea, Robert Einhorn, the US special advisor on nonproliferation and arms control, made it clear that the United States hoped to see South Korea cut its petrochemical imports with the Middle Eastern nation, rallying them to consider an eventual reduction in their Iranian crude oil dependency, stopping short of a full recommendation:

“As production capacity increases, it would be possible for countries to reduce their purchases of Iranian crude and to make up the shortfall by acquiring from other countries,” Mr Einhorn said at a news conference. “But we’re very conscious of the energy security needs of countries like South Korea and we don’t want to interfere with those needs.”

Mr Einhorn’s words come only a few weeks after Wendy Sherman, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs and Albright/Clinton protégée/advisor, prodded similar action from the South Korean nation.

South Korea imported 350 million dollars of Iranian petrochemicals (2 percent of its total petrochem imports) and exported 450 million dollars of their own to Iran last year. A far higher 10 percent of South Korea’s crude oil comes for Iran.

The recommendations by Einhorn and Sherman follow an all out diplomatic assault by the US State Department in recent weeks to shore up its Asian allies and freeze out its regional enemies, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent trip to Burma, which promised improved ties with the repressive nation in exchange for concessions in reducing their North Korean weapons imports.

This author balks slightly on American diplomats’ heavy handed diplomacy in regards to what other nations should or should not do, but the following words are somewhat worrisome in light of Iran’s relationship with North Korea:

Last year, Seoul listed 126 Iranian companies and individuals for economic sanctions, including a major banking operation, in response to American and international pressure. Seoul is reportedly considering imposing sanctions targeting the petrochemical industry following the latest round of sanctions by Washington and other Western powers.

A 10 percent crude oil dependency is not easily shifted but it’s worth the Republic of Korea noting that Iran has been a major trading partner with North Korea in the realms of missile, nuclear and (apparently) submarine technologies for a good many years now.

Continuously waiting for American pressure to ponder sanctions in light of the above relationship is a strange move for a country trying to pry itself out from under America’s shadow but then so is trading with a country that’s helping the nation its still at war with.

This story first appeared at Asia Security Watch, December 6, 2011.