Responding to North Korea’s blast

The nuclear bomb that North Korea exploded was much more powerful than either of the ones it previously tested.

This is getting scary, said Dong-a Ilbo (South Korea) in an editorial. The nuclear bomb that North Korea exploded this week was much more powerful than either of the ones it previously tested, in 2006 and 2009. And since this test comes on the heels of a missile test, we have to conclude that Pyongyang is planning to build a nuclear warhead that can be loaded onto a missile. If it gets to that point, “the military balance on the Korean Peninsula will be instantly dismantled.” President Barack Obama must now “send a strong warning to Pyongyang” to cease and desist—using stronger measures than just another round of U.N. sanctions.

The timing of the test “was apparently chosen to embarrass Obama,” said Xinhua News Agency (China). By setting off an underground nuclear explosion on the eve of the president’s State of the Union address, the Kim regime was showing it would not be cowed by the latest round of U.N. sanctions, which the U.S. instigated after a rocket launch in December. The U.N. Security Council condemned the blast, and Obama threatened more sanctions. “The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the region,” Obama said.

This didn’t embarrass the U.S. alone, said Nile Bowie in (Russia). China had expressly warned its ally North Korea not to go ahead with the threatened test. In a Global Times editorial just over a week ago, the Chinese regime said its ally would pay a “heavy price” for destabilizing the region with another nuclear test. That wasn’t just a metaphor: The Chinese paper went on to urge that material aid to North Korea “should be reduced.” Still, don’t expect a complete break. China has a huge stake in developing North Korea’s “vast, untapped mineral resources,” which amount to an estimated $6 trillion worth of gold, coal, iron, zinc, and copper.

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The test may have been “unwise and regrettable,” said the Global Times (China). But thanks to the harsh rhetoric from the U.S., the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea apparently felt it had no other choice. “Washington has spared no efforts to contain it, and flexed its military muscle time and again by holding joint military drills with South Korea and Japan in the region.” At this point, the best option for all of us would be to revive the stalled six-party talks between the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan, and the U.S. Only through dialogue can we “avoid a disastrous fallout.”

There might be “a thin hope” for a bright side here, said Greg Sheridan in The Australian. Young Kim Jong Un likely felt he had to act like “his demented forebears, papa and grandpapa,” and show his military that he is in charge. But once Kim has “fully established his credentials as a tough, ruthless ruler, he may move on to something more creative.” Educated in the West, he could be planning “some economic loosening” like China did decades ago. “Kim may just be bold enough to think he can have both political control and some economic development.” But he needs his nukes to strike that balance.

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