Another act of folly by North Korea: The Korea Herald

This undated photograph released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency shows a ground jet test for a new type of high-powered engine for inter-continental ballistic rockets.
This undated photograph released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency shows a ground jet test for a new type of high-powered engine for inter-continental ballistic rockets. PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on April 20, the paper urges the international community to prepare to punish Pyongyang which is clearly preparing for a new nuclear test

It is highly likely that the world will see a new nuclear test by North Korea.

This calls on the international community to get ready to punish the rogue regime swiftly and forcefully.

There have been so many signs from the North that South Korean authorities seem convinced that a fifth nuclear test by the North is all but a fait accompli. A Defence Ministry spokesman said he believed the North could conduct nuclear test at any time.

Seoul officials note that recent satellite monitoring of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site came up with a sharp increase - about two to three times the normal rates - of transportation and human activity there.

These signs of new provocation come after the North test-fired - unsuccessfully - a Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile, last Friday, the birthday of the North's founder Kim Il Sung. It exploded shortly after its launch, according to South Korean officials.

The Musudan-class missile has a range of 3,000 to 4,000 km, which means it can hit the US base in Guam, which North Korea frequently mentions as a possible target of its nuclear-tipped missile.

A combination of a miniaturised warhead and ballistic missile is what the North is ultimately trying to achieve or has already achieved as it claims.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, defying the toughest-ever international sanctions imposed on its latest nuclear test and ballistic missile launch earlier this year, has bragged about success in making a small nuclear warhead that can be placed on a ballistic missile.

He also said the North has acquired key ballistic technology like the one needed to get a missile to reenter the atmosphere.

Judging from Mr Kim's comments and the views of experts in the South, the North's new nuclear test may involve - or at least the North may say it did - a miniaturised warhead.

Then before or after the anticipated nuclear detonation, they may try another ballistic missile test, probably another Musudan-class missile, after which they would say they were ready to launch a nuclear attack against the U.S. base in Guam, as well as those in South Korea.

North Korea is obsessed with nuclear and missile capability because it believes that only it will guarantee its survival. It also helps the young dictator rally the country behind him at a time when international sanctions are further strangling its impoverished economy.

More importantly, the North - as it did in the past - may want to use its nuclear and missile prowess as stronger leverage in possible peace negotiations with the US.

The international community should be united in rejecting this possible relapse into another vicious circle of provocations, sanctions, negotiation and reward, and then a new provocation.

In this sense, it is welcoming that the UN Security Council issued a press statement right after the North's failed Musudan missile launch.

That the action was readily endorsed by China, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, is another positive development.

It is also noteworthy that the statement expressed its unequivocal commitment not only to maintain the current sanctions but also to impose even tougher sanctions if the North makes additional provocations.

North Korea should not be mistaken over the international community's determination.

Defying it and carrying out another act of folly would only result in further isolation from the international community and more cracks in its already fragile society.

Mr Kim need look no further than the increasingly conspicuous change in the attitude of China and the recent defection to the South of senior government officials and workers sent overseas to earn hard currency.

* The Korea Herald is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 newspapers.