Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Widespread condemnation of DPRK N-test

Members of the United Nations Security Council have condemned North Korea's latest nuclear test with some calling for further sanctions against the secretive dictatorship.

"Legitimate right"

North Korea has defended its position saying the test was payback for sanctions imposed after an earlier rocket test. In an exuberant television broadcast, a presenter also talked of the test as being in response to continued threats by the United States [BBC].

"The test was carried out as part of practical measures of counteraction to defend the country's security and sovereignty in the face of the ferocious, hostile acts of the US which wantonly violated the DPRK's legitimate right to launch a satellite for peaceful purposes."  [video - BBC]

The announcer spoke of the nuclear test bringing "peace and stability to the Korean peninsula", however this was not how North Korea's neighbours, nor other leaders around the world, saw it.

China opposed

Even China, North Korea's strongest ally, was more vocal than usual and even summoned the North Korean ambassador to the Foreign Ministry for a dressing down.

China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi delivered a "stern representation" to Ji Jae Ryong and expressed China's "strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition" to Tuesday's test in a statement posted on the ministry website.

"Yang Jiechi demanded that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea side cease talk that further escalates the situation and swiftly return to the correct channel of dialogue and negotiation," the statement said.

But while China has condemned the test, its words have been diplomatic and little different from statements made only months ago soon after North Korea launched a long range missile.

Nuclear tests in 2006 & 2009 had also angered China, but this test and its timing coming during the Lunar Festival celebrations brought harsher words from Beijing. China "resolutely opposes" this action, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, echoing sentiments on the street and on Chinese microblogs.

"Crazy dog"

Outside a branch of McDonald's in Beijing one office worker expressed his disgust at North Korea's latest test. "We're all celebrating the new year, but it feels like someone just tossed a hand grenade at my front door. North Korea is just too crazy," the man told a reporter.

Pyongyang was likened to a "crazy dog" by some users of China's popular microblogging sites. Yu Jianrong, a director at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, commented on the humiliation the test had brought to China. "If you pursue an unjust long-term diplomatic policy, then people will dare to explode a stink bomb at your door while you are on holiday," he said. "You are inviting your own humiliation."

Other online commentators were less diplomatic in their use of words. One Sina Webo user named Wuyuesanren slammed the idea that North Korea's nuclear programme boosted China's security, likening Beijing's policy to "keeping a crazy dog to guard the house".

North Korea "simply doesn't trust China and is not willing to be inhibited by China", wrote another Weibo user Zhuanshengben. "For China alone to emphasise China and North Korea's so-called friendship, this is the ultimate stupidity."

Some users even hoped the US might step in. A user called Long Can declared that "if America mobilises troops against North Korea, I will give its government my entire year's salary".

Meanwhile on Twitter, which is blocked in China, one of the country's most prominent dissidents, Hu Jia, called China and North Korea "the most despicable big rogue and ruthless little rogue".

He also posted a recording said to be of a phone call he made to the North Korean embassy in Beijing, in which he told them: "I just want to say, I am Chinese citizen Hu Jia, and I want to express my opposition to your carrying out a nuclear test."

"What?" came the response from the embassy. "Are you out of your mind?" [CTV / Washington Post / NDTV]

"Provocative act"

The strongest words of condemnation came from the west. President Obama called the test a "highly provocative act" while United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said that is was an "extremely regrettable act" [video - YouTube]

In Britain the Foreign Secretary William Hague said the latest nuclear test would only bring "increasing isolation and pressure" upon the rogue state. He expressed his hoped that China, which he described as a "key nation", would help build a dialogue and step up measures against the North Korean regime. "China agreed there would be significant action if this happened so we will now look to them to discuss that with them."

China's role is certainly important, though there remain doubts over how influential they might be despite Beijing's heavy subsidisation of the isolated country. "We need China to help guide them [North Korea] out of this mess," Jim Walsh, an International Security Analyst at MIT, told CNN. But he expressed fears that the situation was "not going to get any better any time soon".

Speaking soon after the test, the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the test "represents a serious threat to the United States of America" and that the US has to "be prepared to deal with that".

However, that threat was still a long way off according to Walsh. The technology needed to reach the US was still some years away, Walsh told CNN. The test was more likely an attempt by Kim Jong-Un please his own military and build national pride. The act was also an attempt to create "leverage and one of consolidation" he added.

Regional reaction

Nonetheless, the nuclear test is seen as a step too far by many countries, especially its close neighbours.

The South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye aired her grave concerns saying, "North Korea's nuclear test is a grave threat to the Korean Peninsula and international peace, hampers inter-Korean trust-building and undermines efforts for peace."

"I strongly condemn North Korea's third nuclear test that was carried out in spite of strong warnings from us and the international community," she added.

The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also raised his concerns and said the test was "a grave threat to the safety of our country and a serious challenge against the global framework of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation."

"It cannot be tolerated, as it will significantly damage safety and peace in north-east Asia and the international community."

Russia also condemned North Korea for what it called an "unlawful act". In a statement Russia's Foreign Ministry said "We insist that the DPRK [North Korea] cease its unlawful acts and unwaveringly carry out all UN Security Council instructions, completely renounce its nuclear-missile programmes and return to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA's comprehensive guarantees."  [BBCCNN]

UN Security Council reaction

At the United Nations the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "strongly condemned" North Korea's nuclear test, branding it a "reckless act, which showed outright disregard for the repeated calls of the international community to refrain from further provocative measures."

He said the test was a "direct challenge" to the UN security council which itself is facing increasing pressure to impose further sanctions and pressure on North Korea.

President Barack Obama speaking ahead of his State of the Nation address said the US and the rest of the international community should stand together and act decisively .

"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," he said [BBC]. 

Media reaction

Many media organisations pulled no punches in criticising North Korea's action. The BBC referred to it as "increased threat to the US and its allies". Regional papers used similar language. Commentary in Tokyo's Sankei Shimbun described the test as "a serious challenge to peace and security in the world" which was, "simply unforgivable.".

Even Chinese media was unusually vocal and critical of its neighbour. Commentary by Xinhua's former Pyongyang correspondent Gao Haorong said, "North Korea's action in disregard of widespread opposition from the international community is bound to make the situation on the peninsula worsen further, which is unwise. North Korea ought to keep its pledge on denuclearisation and all parties should keep calm and exercise restraint." [BBCBBC]

Threat shrugged off by some

But while the detonation at the Punggye Ri test site [Globe & Mail] is a concern, many South Koreans shrugged off the latest arrogant show of bravado. "I do not think the North will wage a war against us because to me, they are just like a beggar with a knife threatening us for more food," said one South Korean soldier who, according to Reuters, appeared more concerned whether the news would affect his vacation plans.

Beyond South Korea there appears to be a sense that North Korea is inevitably on its way to becoming a nuclear power, and that the world will have to deal with its new young leader Kim Jong-Un in that context.

Of course North Korea is unlikely to abandon its provocative behaviour, and as such many are resigned to having to deal with the fledgling nuclear state. And while sanctions are perhaps important, by themselves they will do little to rein in the belligerent state. Sanctions without diplomacy are just the sound of one hand slapping, argues James Gibney writing for Bloomberg. "To get out of the current tit-for-tat stalemate, the US needs to abandon its precondition that the North give up its nuclear weapons program before the US will negotiate a permanent peace treaty," Gibney writes.

Such a prospect is unlikely, however. Even if the US were to relax in its attitude towards North Korea, there are many other countries that would need to be convinced that such a path would be beneficial. The biggest danger in the future is that of a single misstep which could result in war.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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