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Activists from an anti-North Korea civic group shout slogans during a protest against North Korea’s latest nuclear test, in Seoul yesterday.
SEOUL: North Korea conducted its third nuclear test yesterday in defiance of UN resolutions, drawing condemnation from around the world, including from its only major ally, China, which summoned the North Korean ambassador to protest.
The reclusive North said the test was an act of self-defence against “US hostility” and threatened stronger steps if necessary.
It said the test had “greater explosive force” than the 2006 and 2009 tests. Its KCNA news agency said it had used a “miniaturized” and lighter nuclear device, indicating it had again used plutonium, which is more suitable for use as a missile warhead.
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting at which its members “strongly condemned” the test and vowed to start work on appropriate measures in response, the president of the council said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the third of his line to rule the country, has presided over two long-range rocket launches and a nuclear test during his first year in power, pursuing policies that have propelled his impoverished and malnourished country closer to becoming a nuclear weapons power.
China, which has shown signs of increasing exasperation with the recent bellicose tone of its neighbour, summoned the North Korean ambassador in Beijing and protested sternly, the Foreign Ministry said.
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said China was “strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed” to the test and urged North Korea to “stop any rhetoric or acts that could worsen situations and return to the right course of dialogue and consultation as soon as possible”.
US President Barack Obama called the test a “highly provocative act” that hurt regional stability and pressed for new sanctions.
“The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community. The United States will also continue to take steps necessary to defend ourselves and our allies,” Obama said.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Washington and its allies intended to “augment the sanctions regime” already in place due to Pyongyang’s 2006 and 2009 atomic tests. North Korea is one of the most heavily sanctioned states in the world and has few external economic links that can be targeted.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the test was a “grave threat” that could not be tolerated. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the test was a “clear and grave violation” of UN Security Council resolutions.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms programme and return to talks. Nato condemned the test as an “irresponsible act” that posed a grave threat to world peace.
The test “was only the first response we took with maximum restraint”, an unnamed spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry, which acts as Pyongyang’s official voice to the outside world, said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency. “If the United States continues to come out with hostility and complicates the situation, we will be forced to take stronger, second and third responses in consecutive steps.”
North Korea told the UN disarmament forum in Geneva that it would never bow to resolutions on its nuclear programme and that prospects were “gloomy” for the denuclearisation of the divided Korean peninsula because of a “hostile” US policy.
South Korea, still technically at war with the North after the 1950-53 civil war ended in a truce, also denounced the test.
The magnitude was roughly twice as large as that of 2009, Lassina Zerbo, director of the international data centre division of the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organisation, said. The US Geological Survey said that a seismic event measuring 5.1 magnitude had occurred.
“It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturised and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment,” KCNA said.
Yesterday’s action appeared to have been timed for the run-up to February 16 anniversary celebrations of Kim Jong-il’s birthday.