North Korean nuclear test condemned by allies and opponents alike

China says it 'firmly opposes' Pyongyang’s nuclear test, adding it was carried out 'irrespective of the international community’s opposition'.

South Koreans watch a TV screen showing a news report about an earthquake near North Korea’s nuclear facility after Pyongyang announced it had tested a hydrogen bomb.  Ahn Young-joon / AP Photo
Powered by automated translation

TOKYO // China, North Korea’s key diplomatic protector, said on Wednesday it “firmly opposes” Pyongyang’s nuclear test, adding it was carried out “irrespective of the international community’s opposition”.

“We strongly urge the DPRK side to remain committed to its denuclearisation commitment, and stop taking any actions that would make the situation worse,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, using the North’s official name.

She added that China would summon the North’s ambassador and launch “solemn representations” over the nuclear test, Pyongyang’s fourth in total and its first since a 2013 experiment that was condemned by Beijing.

China is a close ally of the isolated state, but relations have become more strained in recent years, in part because of North Korea’s persistence with its nuclear programme in the face of international condemnation.

North Korea’s other neighbours lined up on Wednesday to condemn Pyongyang’s claimed hydrogen bomb test, saying it posed a grave threat to regional security.

Several governments promised a firm response as tensions soared again in north-east Asia, many calling for further action by the United Nations against the hermit nation, which is already subject to heavy international sanctions.

“The nuclear test that was carried out by North Korea is a serious threat to the safety of our nation and we absolutely cannot tolerate this,” Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said in Tokyo.

“This clearly violates UN Security Council resolutions and is a grave challenge against international efforts for non-proliferation,” he said, adding his country would seek to coordinate efforts among UN members to deal with the action.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye called the test a “grave provocation” at an emergency meeting of the Country’s National Security Council (NSC) convened immediately after the news broke.

“The test is not only a grave provocation to our national security but also a threat to our future ... and a strong challenge to international peace and stability,” she said, calling for strong sanctions on Pyongyang.

In an earlier statement, Seoul said it would “take all necessary measures including additional sanctions by the UN Security Council ... so that the North will pay the price for the nuclear test”.

In Washington, the White House would not confirm the test, but vowed to “respond appropriately to any and all North Korean provocations”.

But it is China’s condemnation which could be the most significant. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has yet to visit Beijing, after coming to power following the death of his father four years ago.

Beijing was not aware of Wednesday’s test in advance, foreign ministry spokeswoman Ms Hua said, adding that China would “make our assessment” of Pyongyang’s claim it was a hydrogen bomb.

China is the sponsor of the long-stalled six-party talks, which also include the two Koreas, the United States, Russia and Japan, and Ms Hua called them the “only practical way to resolve the relevant issue”.

Fellow UN Security Council permanent member France joined the chorus of nations slamming Pyongyang’s testing of a nuclear bomb, labelling the move an “unacceptable violation” of UN resolutions and calling for a “strong reaction from the international community”.

Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said her country “condemns in the strongest possible terms” the test, which “confirms North Korea’s status as a rogue state and a continuing threat to international peace and security”, adding that Canberra would express its concerns to Pyongyang directly and call for stronger UN sanctions.

The test, which came just two days before leader Kim Jong-Un’s birthday, was initially detected by international seismology monitors as a 5.1-magnitude tremor next to the North’s main Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the north-east of the country.

Last month, the North Korean leader suggested Pyongyang had already developed a hydrogen bomb.

The claim was questioned by international experts and there was continued scepticism over Wednesday’s test announcement.

Whether an H-bomb or not, it was North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and marked a striking act of defiance in the face of warnings that Pyongyang would pay a steep price if it continued pursuing its atomic weapons programme.

The three previous tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013 triggered waves of UN sanctions. Their failure to prevent a fourth detonation will see calls for more drastic Security Council action this time around.

* Agence France-Presse