World condemns North Korea's most powerful nuclear test

A man walks past a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's fifth nuclear test at Gimhae International Airport in Busan, South Korea, on Sept 9, the anniversary of the reclusive nation's founding.
A man walks past a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's fifth nuclear test at Gimhae International Airport in Busan, South Korea, on Sept 9, the anniversary of the reclusive nation's founding. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Test stokes fears it may have boosted nuclear capability, posing a serious global threat

North Korea's latest and most powerful nuclear test is stoking fears of the hermit state's significantly improved nuclear capability, even as it drew worldwide condemnation.

Its fifth test yesterday produced a 10-kilotonne blast in the country's north-east - almost twice as powerful as the one in January and not far from the 15-kilotonne atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

South Korean President Park Geun Hye blasted the "fanatical recklessness" of the Kim Jong Un regime, saying it would lead North Korea "down the path of self-destruction". Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed more sanctions. China, the North's main ally, urged Pyongyang to stop taking actions that can worsen the situation.

US President Barack Obama warned of "serious consequences" and said he has agreed with US partners to take additional significant steps, including sanctions.

Singapore also expressed its concern, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying the provocative act "seriously jeopardises the peace and stability of the region".

The United Nations Security Council, whose members include the US and China, was due to meet early this morning for urgent talks.

Calling yesterday's test a "success", Pyongyang's Nuclear Weapon Research Centre said it can now produce standardised nuclear warheads to be mounted on ballistic missiles, hinting that they are capable of mass production.

North Korea's enhanced nuclear capability could one day pose a serious threat to the world, experts said.

Over the years, sanctions and talks have failed to stop North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Instead of complying with calls from Washington and Seoul to give up nuclear weapons as a precondition to talks, Pyongyang has launched 22 ballistic missiles and conducted two nuclear tests this year. Analysts said North Korea has ramped up tests in a bid to gain recognition as a nuclear state and press for talks on its own terms.

 

Call for united global response as Tokyo eyes more sanctions

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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers questions from journalists upon his arrival at his office in Tokyo on Sept 9, following news of North Korea's fifth nuclear test.
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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers questions from journalists upon his arrival at his office in Tokyo on Sept 9, following news of North Korea's fifth nuclear test.
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Japan is considering further unilateral sanctions as it condemned North Korea after Pyongyang conducted its fifth, and possibly most powerful, nuclear test yesterday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the test a flagrant violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and said it posed a grave challenge to international disarmament.

This year alone, North Korea has held two nuclear tests and fired 21 missiles of different types, he said, noting the "unprecedentedly quick succession" of the provocative acts.

"This suggests a marked improvement in North Korea's nuclear capabilities," he said, urging a united global response from countries including the United States, China, South Korea and Russia.

Speaking to reporters only a day earlier in Vientiane, where he attended the Asean summits, Mr Abe had said strong pressure from the international community was the only way to stop North Korea from conducting missile and nuclear tests and called for economic sanctions to be implemented "strictly".

Japan had, in February this year, in response to the January nuclear test, approved moves to cut flows of money, people and products to North Korea. It also barred North Korean ships from entering its ports and imposed a total ban on North Korean nationals entering the country, among other measures.

Mr Abe spoke to US President Barack Obama in a 10-minute phone call yesterday, during which they agreed on the need for additional sanctions.

Defence Minister Tomomi Inada, meanwhile, said the likelihood that North Korea has created a miniaturised warhead can no longer be ruled out given the "technical maturity of its nuclear weapons development".

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"North Korea is single-minded in achieving the status and capability of a nuclear country," said Dr Bong Young Shik, a research fellow at Yonsei University's Institute for North Korean Studies. "Once it has nuclear weapons to threaten US forces deployed in South Korea, Guam and Japan, it's a trump card in future negotiations for diplomatic normalisation and economic aid."

The timing of the test, which coincided with the 68th anniversary of North Korea's founding, surprised many as it breaks the regime's three-year cycle of nuclear tests. Analysts did not expect another test so soon, as it takes time to analyse results and gather new raw materials.

This could mean Pyongyang has amassed enough nuclear ammunition and is using the test to "send a political message", said Dr Go Myong Hyun, a research fellow at The Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

"North Korea is basically saying ... unless you recognise me as a nuclear state and we sit down at the negotiation table as equals, we will keep conducting these provocations."

He added that North Korea could be feeling the pressure of UN economic sanctions imposed in March.

Analysts say frequent provocations may not work in a US election year. In fact, the latest test could provide further justification for the US to deploy its advanced anti-missile system in South Korea, a move opposed by China, they added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2016, with the headline 'World condemns N. Korea's most powerful nuclear test'. Print Edition | Subscribe