Shortwave radio may be the most underused of all the AM wavebands, though its ability to travel far greater distances than either long or medium-wave has enabled it to cross continents, open extended lines of communication between amateur radio hams and provide intelligence services with an invaluable means of both eavesdropping on the enemy and passing instructions on to agents in the field. The clandestine cult of the Numbers Stations (which I have covered in previous posts) has highlighted the indisputable existence of the latter shortwave use, even if governments remain in public denial. The repetitive reading of numbers by an electronically-generated voice, reciting a code indecipherable to the layman, was a vital weapon in the Cold War because shortwave broadcasts can often be untraceable.
The golden age of the Numbers Stations was when the majority of them emanated from behind the Iron Curtain, though they have continued to appear on shortwave long after the so-called Russian Woodpecker over-the-horizon Soviet radar system served as a useful jamming device. Many these days come from the likes of Cuba and China. Shortwave radio is an almost infallible method of secret communication, far more than the easily-hacked and traceable signal from the internet. The notion that a medium dating from the early years of the twentieth century is a safer bet than contemporary technology flies in the face of everything we’re led to believe in this techno-savvy age, when the lifespan of mediums means they seem to have a use-by date stamped on them the minute they exit the conveyor belt; but it’s true.
It goes without saying that I’ve no evidence whether or not shortwave is utilised to penetrate the closed world of North Korea, but if it isn’t it should be. The global reach of the worldwide web experiences something of an obstacle when confronted by Kim Jong-un’s citadel; very few of the great dictator’s subjects have internet access, so snooping on the traffic travelling in and out of Pyongyang is a considerably more challenging task than watching westerners wanking over webcam wonders doing rude things in a Belarus bedroom.
That many of the North Korean nuclear testing sites are situated underground has also limited the ability of American satellites to observe the country’s rapidly developing nuclear programme. Modern spying techniques that work so well when observing the innocent have proven to be all-but useless whenever the west has attempted to keep an eye on the Far East’s most worrisome nation.
North Korea’s old sponsor China hasn’t seen fit to share what its own intelligence has been able to divulge re recent events, though North Korea’s understandably jittery neighbour in the South has claimed more missile launches are being prepared; these would be hot on the heels of the one that flew over Japan last week before splashing down in the Pacific. North Korea has also bragged that it now has the capabilities for attaching a hydrogen bomb onto a long-range missile, after testing out said explosive device at the weekend, one that apparently made the H-bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 resemble little more than a fart in a curry-house.
The detonation of North Korea’s weekend H-bomb could be clearly detected in tremors that were felt in the Chinese city of Yanji, though few who flooded social media with their videos of the aftershocks were initially aware this had been a manmade earthquake. The fact that North Korea chose to test their H-bomb on the same day as Chinese President Xi Jinping was scheduled to give a speech at an international diplomatic shindig perhaps demonstrates its growing detachment from its former ally. Each of the recent publicised North Korean nuclear tests have coincided with major dates in the Chinese President’s schedule; the fact that China has backed UN sanctions against the nation it remains one of the few in the world to still trade with clearly grates.
China, however, is still in a position where it could effectively bring North Korea to its knees, being the country’s principle supplier of gas and oil as well as laundering billions in its banks; the apparent reason it doesn’t seems to stem from Chinese fears over what the collapse of the North Korean regime would do to the region. If North and South were to reunite, with the whole of the nation becoming one giant South Korea, China is concerned that the US would exercise the same influence it already has over the South, turning the reunified Korean Peninsula into another American base in the Pacific akin to Japan. China isn’t exactly keen on the thought of US troops stationed on its borders, but how much more is it prepared to tolerate before it exercises its remaining power over its one-time protégé?
China and the USA have a greater influence in the area around North Korea than any other world powers, so they are both better placed than most to change the current situation; but it’s equally obvious that they need to work together to bring about a resolution that the UN is incapable of concocting. North Korea has hardly paid much attention to that institution so far. President Trump declaring that America is considering no longer trading with any nation that trades with North Korea seemingly overlooks the fact that China provides the country with 90% of its trade. For the moment, North Korea is essentially dropping its trousers and mooning China, the US and the UN in an act of schoolboy taunting; but China still wields the cane. All it needs to do is use it and maybe the rest of the world can sleep a little sounder as a consequence.
© The Editor