Testing nuclear weapons is what the reclusive North Korea loves most and does best. And it looks crazy to the rest of the world that this nation, which doesn’t have enough to feed its people, is expending its energy on weapons pursuit, whose benefits are more emotional than real.
But Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test, held on Tuesday, is more risky and marks a dangerous escalation. Previous detonations appeared intended mostly as crude provocations. But there are fears that the poverty-stricken state may be aiming to become a full-fledged nuclear power, with warheads and missiles that could threaten its neighbours.
The global reactions have been furious. The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting in New York to ‘strongly condemn’ the test. It called the test a “grave violation” of earlier resolutions and warned it will strengthen sanctions just three weeks after the latest wave took effect. US President Barack Obama has vowed to take ‘swift and credible’ action against the state. But the most significant has been China’s reaction. Beijing has so far adopted a policy of mollycoddling the fellow communist state and acted as a big brother, but this time, it made its displeasure more clear. In a rare display of anger, Beijing summoned Pyongyang’s ambassador in Beijing and conveyed its ‘strong dissatisfaction’ and ‘firm opposition’ for acting in disregard to the opinion of the international community.
But more notable has been the reaction of ordinary Chinese, who castigated their government through the social media networks for its mild response to the tests. Beijing should listen to the opinion of its people and react more sensibly and responsibly to prevent North Korea from sliding down the path of self-destruction. China is the only country which can perform this duty, and it’s a duty which its neighbours and the rest of the world expect it to perform.
One reason Beijing has been a little more strident in its response this time could be due to fears that instability in North Korea would bring refugees flooding across the border or, more reckless acts by its neighbour could result in US intervention. In power for barely more than a year, the new North Korean leader has adhered overwhelmingly to the policies of his father, using a familiar mix of internal repression and nuclear showmanship to boost his prospects and popularity. But he must realise that this policy will not bring him dividends. With every nuclear test, he has been testing the patience of the international community, and is now reaching a stage where patience can’t be tested anymore, without fatal consequences.
At the same time, the world must refrain from overreactions. Doing so would be falling for Kim Jong-un’s bait.