North Korea nuclear crisis

After North Korea’s latest nuclear test, China must lead global efforts to rein in insecure regime

The world must get tough on reclusive and dangerous leader Kim Jong-un and Beijing is best-placed to exert diplomatic muscle as never before

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 January, 2016, 1:29am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 January, 2016, 3:59am

North Korea’s dangerous ways have for too long been tolerated by the world. Its testing of a fourth nuclear device ignores the global push for denuclearisation and threatens international peace and security.

Rightly, it has been condemned and governments have called for a united effort to bring leader Kim Jong-un’s regime to heel. But mere words and half-hearted efforts are not enough, as history has shown; the explosion that caused a tremor so powerful that life in neighbouring Jilin (吉林) province was shaken has to serve as a wake-up call, in particular for China so that the lives of its people will not be disrupted.

WATCH: North Korea announces successful hydrogen nuclear test

Beijing is leading the charge, calling for Pyongyang to return to six-nation talks to end weapons proliferation that broke down in 2012. China initiated the negotiations a decade ago and has every reason to seek a deal; the North’s nuclear and missile programmes hinder regional stability and prosperity.

Should Kim’s threats to attack South Korea and its ally, the United States, be carried out, the Chinese would be caught up in a potentially catastrophic conflict. The North’s unpredictability and provocations prove its threats cannot be taken lightly.

READ MORE: ‘Stop making the situation worse’: North Korea’s H-bomb test draws condemnation from Beijing

A new nuclear test, the fourth since 2006 and first since 2013, had been foreshadowed, but the timing was a surprise. Kim’s birthday is on Friday and it could well have been aimed at marking the occasion.

The North claimed it was its first hydrogen bomb, although there are doubts given the nature of the blast. Regardless, despite international efforts that have included UN Security Council resolutions imposing economic sanctions, the programme has moved forward unhindered and a dozen, perhaps scores, of bombs are thought to have been produced.

The North said the device was to protect against hostile forces, the US being its prime enemy. But Kim played down perceived threats and his country’s weapons programmes in his new year’s speech, instead focusing on economic matters. With the US refusing to engage or return to the Beijing-sponsored talks until the North promises to denuclearise, the best-placed nation to elicit change is China.

READ MORE: Don’t believe the hype: Nuclear experts remain sceptical about North Korea’s hydrogen bomb claims

President Xi Jinping (習近平) has shown his displeasure with Kim, shunning a long-sought summit and forging warm ties with South Korea. But although China provides most of the North’s oil and consumer goods and up to 45 per cent of its food, it has limited leverage to push for talks. Its efforts have so far been defied. But the latest test is reason for the world community, and Beijing in particular, to exert diplomatic muscle as never before.