Coinciding with the BRICS summit in Xiamen, North Korea’s sixth nuclear test on Sunday sent shockwaves through the international community, adding to pressure on China at a time when President Xi Jinping is getting ready to rule the country for at least another five years.
India issued a sharply worded condemnation of the nuclear test, which, at an yield of 50 kilotonnes, is substantially larger than the bomb that levelled Nagasaki in 1945. Deploring the nuclear test, the foreign ministry “called upon DPR Korea to refrain from such actions which adversely impact peace and stability in the region and beyond”.
Reminding the international community of the web of nuclear proliferation, that stretches from countries like China and Pakistan to others in the region, India said it “remains concerned about the proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies which has adversely impacted India’s national security”.
India has consistently tried to draw the line between North Korea’s nuclear and missile capability and the proliferation activities by Pakistan.
The test, coming just ahead of China’s 19th party congress, is another sign that Beijing’s warnings to North Korea have fallen on deaf ears. It’s not particularly comforting for an emerging superpower like China, which prides on getting its neighbours and allies to do its bidding.
China joined in the recent UN sanctions against North Korea, stopped a lot of trade with its close ally but is not yet ready to dump Pyongyang.
Kim Jong-un, meanwhile, has demonstrated that he was not willing to heed or be sensitive to North Korea’s greatest benefactor.
China is trying hard to shake off the international calls that it has to “do more” to rein in North Korean adventurism.
It has been forced to go along with sanctions, but as Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday, they had no effect on North Korea.It also makes China’s threats sound slightly hollow. This week, China’s foreign ministry dashed off a note to Indonesia asking it to reverse a decision to name its waters as North Natuna Sea. These waters overlap with China’s unilateral 9-dash line in the South China Sea. China claims almost all of this sea.
It is still unclear whether Indonesia will obey the Chinese directive or feel emboldened to defy. On the east, Japan is mulling greater military options, including pre-emptive strike abilities after North Korea sent a missile over its airspace.
Sunday’s test will only add to Japan’s sense of insecurity and possibly focus the national debate on militarisation. Japanese PM Shinzo Abe called last week’s missile firing by North Korea an “unprecedented, grave and serious threat”, while defence minister Itsunori Onodera declared that Japan must upgrade its missiles.
With South Korea already looking to beef up its defences, including deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), an American anti-ballistic missile defence system, North Korea’s nuclear antics may just result in a situation where China, the dominant power in east Asia, could become flanked by heightened offence-defence posture by Japan and South Korea.