North Korea on Tuesday said it had conducted a “successful” third underground nuclear test, in a move that brought quick condemnation from the United Nations and the North’s neighbours and is set to heighten regional tensions.
The State-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said a “miniaturised” nuclear device had been detonated successfully at the test site.
The test was reported to have taken place at a test site in the North Hamgyeong province, where the Punggye-ri nuclear complex that conducted tests in 2006 and 2009 is located. The previous nuclear test in 2009 resulted in fresh resolutions aimed at the North from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), tighter sanctions and increased tensions with South Korea and Japan.
UN, South Korea deplore test
Tuesday’s test brought quick condemnations from the United Nations and the North’s neigbours. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement condemned the test as “a clear and grave violation of the relevant Security Council resolutions”. “It is deplorable that Pyongyang defied the strong and unequivocal call from the international community to refrain from any further provocative measures,” he said.
South Korea described the test as a violation of U.N. resolutions and as an “unacceptable threat”, the Seoul-based Yonhap news agency reported. “North Korea won’t be able to avoid grave responsibility,” said the statement, which was issued shortly after President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency National Security Council meeting.
South Korea has requested the UNSC to hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday evening, an official told Yonhap.
In Tokyo, Japanese officials said they would deploy military jets to survey the radiation levels following the test. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the country was considering imposing “unilateral sanctions” on the North.
News of the test first emerged early on Tuesday morning, when a magnitude 5.1 “artificial earthquake” was reported near a nuclear test site at 11.57 am local time (8.27 am IST). Tremors were also felt in parts of northeastern China near the border with North Korea.
A South Korean defence ministry official told Yonhap the nuclear device had, according to initial estimates, yielded 6-7 kilotons, suggesting Tuesday’s test had exceeded the yields reported in tests in 2006 and 2009.
A third nuclear test was expected by Chinese and Western officials sometime this week, with Saturday – the birthday of former leader Kim Jong-il – earlier seen as a likely date. The North had notified the United States and China a day earlier, according to South Korean officials quoted by Yonhap.
On Monday, Kim Jong-il’s son and successor Kim Jong-un, who took over as the new leader following his father’s death in December 2011, had signalled that the North – officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – would continue with conducting long-range rocket tests despite recent warnings from the UNSC and even China, the North’s only ally.
Call for tougher approach
In recent weeks, Chinese officials in Beijing have said they had cautioned the North against going ahead with the test. While Beijing has continued to support the regime as it fears instability on its northeastern borders, Chinese analysts and State media have recently called on the country to take a tougher approach in dealing with the North.
The Communist Party-run Global Times said in an editorial last week, “if North Korea insists on a third nuclear test despite attempts to dissuade it, it must pay a heavy price”. “The assistance it will be able to receive from China should be reduced,” the newspaper said.“The Chinese government should make this clear beforehand to shatter any illusions Pyongyang may have.”
However, China, which is the North’s only ally and biggest source of financial and food aid, views the country as a crucial strategic buffer against the U.S. and its allies in the region, and has shown no signs of rethinking its close strategic ties following the previous nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.