North Korea has conducted its third nuclear test, only months after it test-fired a rocket in December which other countries suspect is a cover for a missile test launch. The nuclear test, the first under leader Kim Jong Un's watch, drew sharp condemnation from the UN and the international community, and further escalated tensions on the Korean peninsula and the region.
Report: North Korea Claims 'Successful' Nuclear Test [VOA, 11 Feb 2013]
Experts have weighed in on the latest provocation by North Korea, with some calling for a review of current strategies towards the Stalinist state. Tensions have been increasing on the Korean peninsula since the North test launched a satellite rocket that it claims is for peaceful purposes but which many see as a cover for testing ballistic missile technology. Responding to more stringent sanctions in the wake of the rocket launch, North Korea had said its missile and nuclear programmes are targeted at the US, and threatened to explode another nuclear device. Now with its third nuclear test drawing widespread international flak, it has only succeeded in becoming more isolated.
Experts noted that the North's regime timed the test to coincide with leadership changes in the region, and may have been especially aimed at testing the incoming South Korean president Park Geun-Hye. The test also came less than a day before US President Barack Obama was to give his State of the Union address. Moreover, observers also opined that the nuclear test sought to buttress Kim Jong Un's domestic support and show hardliners in the military his toughness on national defence. However, experts hold differing views on how advanced North Korea's nuclear programme is.
China represents a wild card in this equation, as it remains to be seen how far China would take action against North Korea. In a move seen as unusual, China had voted in favour of a UN Security Council resolution to tighten sanctions after the rocket launch. Chinese official media also warned the North that should it carry out its nuclear test, China would reduce aid to the impoverished country. Indeed, shortly after the nuclear test, China has already voiced its opposition. As the North's only ally and main source of economic assistance, China is likely embarrassed by the test, and some observers believe that China would follow through on its threats to a certain extent. Nonetheless, other analysts are of the view that China's aid to the North would continue, due to China's reluctance to abandon its historical ally, a move which would potentially result in regime collapse that could see refugess swarming into China's northeast, as well as a unified and US-allied Korea right up at China's border.