North Korea restarted a 5MW nuclear reactor at its Yongbyon facility in August last year, National Intelligence chief Nam Jae-joon told lawmakers on Tuesday, and conducted an engine test for a long-range missile around the same time. He added that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been boasting that he could "reunify the Korean Peninsula by force within three years."
In August, the North was also busy seeking talks with the South. Seoul and Pyongyang agreed on Aug. 14 to reopen the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Park, which had been shut for more than four months, and President Park Geun-hye proposed the following day to resume reunions of separated families.
The North agreed to the reunions and went even further by proposing inter-Korean talks at the North's scenic resort of Mt. Kumgang. But at the same time it was restarting a reactor that had been idle since 2007, when it was closed under an agreement reached in six-party talks.
The reactor was created solely for the purpose of producing nuclear weapons. With it, the North had since the early 1990s produced plutonium for the nuclear weapons it tested in 2006 and 2009, and the decision to restart it signals that it wants to conduct another test. This marks only the latest agreement from the six-party talks that Pyongyang has scrapped.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told Park on Monday, when they met on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Indonesia, that Beijing firmly opposes North Korea's nuclear program and additional nuclear tests. China has also been trying to persuade the U.S. to reopen the six-party talks.
But they would be pointless. If they resume now, North Korea will again use the Yongbyon reactor as a bargaining chip to exact concessions, and again threaten to conduct another nuclear test if things do not go as it wishes. That is why South Korea and the U.S. have refused to return to the talks unless North Korea first lives up to its previous obligations.
China's sincerity would be in serious doubt if it has been calling for the six-party talks to resume knowing that North Korea restarted the reactor. Beijing should focus its efforts on getting North Korea to stop the reactor. Only then can there be any prospect of resuming the talks.