Hopes that the third generation of North Korea's Kim dynasty would break from its pariah path have been blown away by the country's third nuclear test. Young dictator Kim Jong-un, for all his changed style of rule, went ahead with the long-foreshadowed blast despite international warnings of the consequences. No nation has the right to proliferate weapons so destructive or threaten global peace and stability. The response from China and its UN Security Council partners has to be unequivocally strong, making plain that the world has had enough of the North's intransigence.
China, despite being the North's closest ally, has realised its strategy of subtle persuasion is not effective. By changing tack last month and supporting a Security Council resolution condemning a rocket launch and tightening sanctions, China showed Pyongyang it can no longer count on Beijing's support. The days of coaxing are over. Kim's regime has to be shown the error of its ways by friends and foes alike. For new Chinese leader Xi Jinping , that means exerting diplomatic muscle to restart six-party peace talks that collapsed in 2009.
Kim perhaps does not realise the region's circumstances changed in the past three months. Neighbours China, Japan and South Korea have new leaders and US President Barack Obama has been elected to a second term, a chance to create a legacy. The North Korean dictator succeeded his late father, Kim Jong-il, just 14 months ago and successful nuclear and missile tests are a forceful way of showing authority. But to outsiders, the actions are also a provocation and governments, especially those that have recently taken office, have an obligation to defend and ease the fears of their citizens.
North Korea is also not the country it once was. A growing black market in goods and smuggled technology is showing an ever-wider section of society the lies its leaders have for so long been feeding. There are signs that Kim is willing to change. His calls for a new economic model and speeches in public break with tradition. But nuclear and missile tests and continued vitriol against rivals say otherwise.
The only choice for China, the US and others in the Security Council is to condemn Kim's regime for its actions. That will mean further isolation for North Korea. Kim will have only one viable option - to return to the decade-old six-party process in Beijing to broker a peaceful resolution. In a region so eager for stability, there is no better way to force a reality check.