North Korea yesterday conducted its fifth and biggest nuclear test and said it had mastered the ability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile, ratcheting up a threat that its rivals and the UN have been powerless to contain.
The blast, on the 68th anniversary of North Korea’s founding, was more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, according to some estimates, and drew condemnation from the US as well as China, Pyongyang’s main ally.
Diplomats said the UN Security Council was to discuss the test at a closed-door meeting yesterday, at the request of the US, Japan and South Korea.
Under 32-year-old dictator Kim Jong-un, North Korea has accelerated the development of its nuclear and missile programs, despite UN sanctions that were tightened in March and have further isolated the impoverished country.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye, in Laos after a summit of Asian leaders, said Kim was showing “maniacal recklessness” in completely ignoring the world’s call to abandon his pursuit of nuclear weapons.
US President Barack Obama, aboard Air Force One on his way home from Laos, said the test would be met with “serious consequences,” and held talks with Park and with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the White House said.
China said it was resolutely opposed to the test and urged Pyongyang to stop taking any actions that would worsen the situation. It said it would lodge a protest with the North Korean embassy in Beijing.
There were further robust condemnations from Russia, the EU, NATO, Germany and Britain.
North Korea, which labels the South and the US as its main enemies, said its “scientists and technicians carried out a nuclear explosion test for the judgement of the power of a nuclear warhead,” according to its official Korean Central News Agency.
It said the test proved North Korea was capable of mounting a nuclear warhead on a medium-range ballistic missile, which it last tested on Monday when Obama and other world leaders were gathered in China for a G20 summit.
Pyongyang’s claims of being able to miniaturize a nuclear warhead have never been independently verified.
Its continued testing in defiance of sanctions presents a challenge to Obama in the final months of his presidency and could become a factor in the US presidential election in November, and a headache to be inherited by whoever wins.
“Sanctions have already been imposed on almost everything possible, so the policy is at an impasse,” said Tadashi Kimiya, a University of Tokyo professor specializing in Korean issues.
“In reality, the means by which the United States, South Korea and Japan can put pressure on North Korea have reached their limits,” he said.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said she had no information to provide when asked if China had advance warning of the test, and would not be drawn on whether China would support tougher sanctions against its neighbor.
Although Beijing has criticized North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, it has repeatedly expressed anger since the US and South Korea decided in July to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in the South.
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