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September 10, 2016

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China blasts North Korea’s nuke test

CHINA “firmly opposes” North Korea’s nuclear test, the foreign ministry said yesterday after a fifth atomic blast that Pyongyang’s state media said had been successful in fitting a miniaturized nuclear warhead on a rocket.

“Today, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea again conducted a nuclear test despite widespread international opposition — the Chinese government firmly opposes this,” the ministry said in a statement on its website, using North Korea’s official name.

“We strongly urge the DPRK to honor its commitment to denuclearization, comply with relevant security council resolutions and stop taking any actions that worsen the situation,” it added.

The statement called for the issue to be resolved through six-party talks — the long-stalled negotiations chaired by China that also brings together the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the United States.

China will lodge representation with the DPRK over the nuclear test, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

Hua said she had no information to provide when asked if China had advance warning of the test.

Although China 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 South Korea. China calls THAAD a threat to its own security.

China’s environmental protection ministry activated a contingency plan following the blast, adding that it was monitoring for radiation on the North Korean border.

North Korea said it had mastered the ability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile, ratcheting up a threat that its rivals and the United Nations 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.

Jeffrey Lewis, of the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said the seismic magnitude and surface level indicated a blast with a 20 to 30 kiloton yield, much larger than the bomb dropped during World War II.

“That’s the largest DPRK test to date, 20-30kt, at least. Not a happy day,” Lewis said.

South Korea’s military put the force of the blast at 10 kilotons, which would still be North Korea’s most powerful nuclear blast to date.

“The important thing is that five tests in, they now have a lot of nuclear test experience. They aren’t a backward state any more,” Lewis said.

Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea has accelerated the development of its nuclear and missile programs despite UN sanctions that were tightened in March.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, in Laos after a summit of Asian leaders, said that 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 the White House said he had held talks with Park and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

North Korea, which labels South Korea and the US as its main enemies, said its “scientists and technicians carried out a nuclear explosion test for the judgment of the power of a nuclear warhead,” according to its official KCNA 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 his successor.

“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.

North Korea has been testing different types of missiles at an unprecedented rate this year, and the capability to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile is especially worrisome for neighbors South Korea and Japan.

“The standardization of the nuclear warhead will enable the DPRK to produce at will and as many as it wants a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads of higher strike power,” KCNA said.


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