Photo: Reuters/Joseph Campbell

In February, China’s embassy in Tokyo issued a unique safety warning to millions of mainland tourists flocking to Japan: mind the radiation.

Japan didn’t take kindly to the advisory. Its preferred narrative three years ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is that all’s grand at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. It’s under control. Nothing to see here.

Chinese diplomats in February were responding to an admission by Tokyo Electric Power Co. that radiation levels at the Fukushima atomic facility northeast of Tokyo were higher than previously thought.

Yet China may have its own radiation worries with which to contend, ones partly of its own making across its border with North Korea.

As the global media obsesses over Kim Jong-un’s latest missile shot over Japan, the real story may be intelligence amassed by North Korea experts like those at 38 North.

Commercial satellite imagery, the respected Johns Hopkins University advisory reports, show increased numbers of massive landslides near the slopes of Mt. Mantap, near Pyongyang’s nuclear test area.

Kim’s regime is essentially engineering giant earthquakes. It was a March 2011 quake, remember, that precipitated the Fukushima atomic plant meltdown, the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

Ominously, South Korea is detecting traces of land-based radioactive xenon-133 gas from North Korea.

Ominously, South Korea is detecting traces of land-based radioactive xenon-133 gas from North Korea.

“It was difficult to find out how powerful the nuclear test was with the amount of xenon detected, but we can say the xenon was from North Korea,” said Choi Jongbae, executive commissioner of the South Korean Nuclear Safety Agency.

These radioactive isotopes don’t occur naturally and they’ve been linked to North Korean nuclear tests in the past.

In this context, 38 North’s assessment of Pyongyang’s September 3 nuclear test, its sixth, is decidedly chilling.

“The yield of the test clearly shows North Korean progress in increasing the yields of their nuclear weapons,” write Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. and Jack Liu.

Not to forget, the risk of accidents and mistakes rise with the frequency of nuclear tests and the destructiveness of each new weapon. It makes you wonder about what kinds of radiation traces Chinese officials are measuring.

The odds of President Xi Jinping’s opaque government coming clean on this score are virtually nil. Yet it may be the underappreciated catalyst that drives Beijing to get serious about taming Kim’s provocations.

If China is worried about Fukushima, imagine having to sort out radiation leaks in neighboring North Korea – a crisis the global community wouldn’t know about until it’s too late.

If China is worried about Fukushima, imagine having to sort out radiation leaks in neighboring North Korea – a crisis the global community wouldn’t know about until it’s too late.

That would have the world laying some blame at Beijing’s feet, given that its financial support enables Pyongyang and the porousness of the China-North Korea border.

As Paik Hak-soon of the Sejong Institute warns, the “possibility of a radiation leak there is growing.” The odds, Paik says, are rising because the “risk of collapse within the Punggye-ri nuclear test site is growing.”

The political rhetoric is frightening enough, with President Donald Trump threatening “fire and fury” and Kim’s regime saying US-ally Japan should be “sunken into the sea by the nuclear bomb of Juche,” referring to North Korea’s self-reliance ideology.

The risks facing Kim’s main benefactors in Beijing, though, are worth considering. Even beyond radiation, say experts like Rand Corporation analyst Bruce Bennett, China worries Kim’s tests could cause mountains to collapse and volcanoes to erupt.

China has signed on to recent United Nations sanctions, but it’s been reluctant to tighten the economic screws.

The thing is, Xi can ignore Trump’s bromides from Washington and he can brush aside advice from Japan’s Shinzo Abe or South Korea’s Moon Jae-in side eyes all he wants. But Xi can’t ignore the growing radiation risks directly in China’s backyard.

Nor can a global economy relying more and more on a stable and growing China.

Radiation suddenly wafting China’s way would be an epic Black Swan that markets aren’t even remotely pricing in.

If ever there were a reason for Xi to rethink his laissez-faire approach toward North Korea, the risk of a Chernobyl-like disaster on his doorstep is it.

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