The Straits Times says

None acting alone can curb Kim

Sunday's 6.3-magnitude test blast from the bowels of North Korea's earth, and Pyongyang's subsequent boast that it had loaded a hydrogen bomb on an intercontinental missile, were Mr Kim Jong Un's way of saying there is no stopping him now. His relentless efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, and perhaps deliver them thousands of miles away, had passed another critical landmark. Coming on top of the ballistic missile tests conducted over the past eight months - two shots over the Japanese island of Hokkaido just last week - it is time the world woke up to the fact that a new nuclear power is in its midst. Mr Kim's actions might now tempt South Korea and Japan to relook their own abhorrence for owning nuclear weapons.

Some realities have to be confronted. First, North Korea is a de facto nuclear power, one that will continue to strengthen its hand militarily, whatever the sanctions heaped upon it. Russian President Vladimir Putin portrayed it accurately when he said Pyongyang would rather eat grass than abandon the nuclear programme. Second, South Korea and Japan, by not suspending their military drills with the US, are aggravating Mr Kim's insecurities. Needless to say, US President Donald Trump's threat to wage a trade war on any nation doing business with North Korea might open rifts with China, Russia and India.

Rather than sow international discord, which Mr Kim thrives on, Mr Trump would be better advised to seek concord among the major powers, so they can jointly calm the situation on the Korean peninsula. A summit-level meeting involving the United States, China and Russia is worth considering. The major powers must work out a common position on central issues. This is the necessary response if Pyongyang launches a direct attack on a country; the future of the peninsula should hostilities break out; and measures to ensure nuclear non-proliferation if others seek to emulate Mr Kim's actions. China, the North's only ally, should be particularly aware that because of its reluctance to firmly rein in Pyongyang, it has one more nuclear armed nation in its periphery, adding to Russia, Pakistan and India. No other country is in this situation.

So far, Mr Kim has played his cards adroitly, confounding his ally and confusing his purported enemies to the south and in the wider neighbourhood. While there does appear to be a cold rationality in his behaviour, there is no guarantee that he will not succumb to mutually assured destruction. He might do something rash if he suspects a coup attempt or fears an attack is on the cards. By not acting to bring key parties back to the table, Mr Trump has betrayed a lack of global leadership. Now, it might fall on France to play that role, as suggested by President Xi Jinping. Bluster is out of place if possible talks among the two Koreas, Japan and the major powers are to bear fruit.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2017, with the headline 'None acting alone can curb Kim'. Print Edition | Subscribe