A reckless gamble

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A reckless gamble

North Korea on Wednesday conducted its fourth nuclear test. Just three hours after the detection of seismic shock waves, it announced a successful test of a “hydrogen bomb.” Defying the international community’s expectations of restraint, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pushed the button, taking a highly risky gamble that may turn China into an enemy. His bet will backfire.

International society interpreted Kim’s shunning of provocative phrases such as “nuclear development” as a sign of reining in nuclear provocation and instead seeking internal stability ahead of the Workers’ Party convention in May. But his rash move has drawn attention away from the rising tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

While additional analysis is needed, Pyongyang appears to have noticeably increased the explosive power of its nuclear test. Whether it was a hydrogen bomb test or not, the North’s nuclear development has apparently reached a new phase. If it miniaturized a hydrogen warhead and successfully test-fired an SLBM, that rings alarm bells given the North’s emergence as a direct threat to U.S. security.

The North aims for status as a nuclear power like India and Pakistan outside of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And it intends to resume dialogue on a peace treaty with the United States by beefing up pressure on President Barack Obama. After Pyongyang’s gamble, the UN Security Council must take “serious additional measures” in accordance with the 2013 resolution, including increased economic sanctions.

However, since the UN sanctions have limits, the United States and China must act. Since the North this time did not inform both countries of its test, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s patience is being tried, which may lead to a call for a complete review of Beijing-Pyongyang relations. If Beijing stops trading with Pyongyang, the North could face a serious crisis due to the scarcity of food and energy.

In the United States, presidential candidates will increasingly demand a strategic decision from the Obama administration. If America neglects its role, no one knows what Shinzo Abe will do. Calls for nuclear development will gain momentum in Korea and Taiwan. Regardless of what direction Washington and Beijing take, the survival of Kim’s regime will be threatened.

And with inter-Korean relations frozen ahead of the April general election here, hardliners will prevail - to the dismay of Kim, who seeks economic betterment. He wants to thrust the Korean Peninsula into chaos. Both ruling and opposition parties must not try to take advantage of it. We must react calmly.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 7, Page 30

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