North Korea said it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb with “unprecedentedly big power” that can be loaded onto an intercontinental ballistic missile, a significant escalation of its threats to strike the US. Sunday’s test, North Korea’s first under US President Donald Trump’s watch, was a “perfect success” and confirmed the precision and technology of the bomb, according to the Korean Central News Agency. Energy from the explosion, near the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in northeast North Korea, was about six times stronger than the nuclear test of last September, South Korea’s weather agency said.
“It’s big — an order of magnitude bigger than anything else we’ve seen the North Koreans explode,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, said of the latest test. “A larger weapon can obviously wreak more destruction. But I think there is also a political aspect — the North Koreans want an arsenal as modern as anyone else.”
Trump said in a series of Twitter messages that North Korea’s “words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States.” While stopping short of his warnings last month of “fire and fury” if the regime keeps threatening the U.S., he added, “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!”
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General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong and they agreed to prepare an unspecified military response, Yonhap News Agency said. South Korea will discuss ways to possibly deploy the U.S.’s “most powerful” strategic assets, Chung said at a briefing, without elaborating. The presidential office in Seoul on Friday dismissed the possibility of housing U.S. nuclear weapons in the country.
“All options are on the table,” Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said on public broadcaster NHK.
Still, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a statement that he was furious about the test, he also urged North Korea to agree to negotiations. It is too early to say whether North Korea has crossed a red line set previously by Moon, Yonhap reported, citing an unidentified official from his office.
Sunday’s developments follow successive launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S., and the firing of a missile over Japan last week into the Pacific Ocean.
It’s the second time North Korea has conducted a major provocation while China hosted a big international event. President Xi Jinping is hosting counterparts from Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa in a three-day meeting starting on Sunday in Xiamen.
China’s foreign ministry issued a statement condemning the nuclear test. “China urges North Korea to abide by Security Council resolutions, stop taking actions that will worsen the situation and at the same time won’t benefit its own interests, and to return to the path of dialogue to solve the problem,” it said.
Trump’s administration has sought to pressure China into cutting off food and fuel to North Korea, while warning that all options are on the table to stop Kim. China has resisted doing anything that would lead to the collapse of Kim Jong-un’s regime, in part to avoid destabilizing its economy and seeing the U.S. military gain influence in a unified Korea.
“North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success,” Trump said in one of his tweets Sunday.
Michael Kovrig, senior adviser for Northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group, said he felt a tremor while sitting in a coffee shop on Sunday in the Chinese city of Hunchun, which is on the border with North Korea.
“The fact that they did this test with the BRICS summit about to start really shows the dire state of relations at the moment,” Kovrig said.
The United Nations Security Council has unanimously voted to tighten sanctions that targeted about a third of North Korea’s $3 billion in exports. Even so, Russia and China have been particularly cautious about prodding Kim too hard.
Russia called on North Korea to end its provocations, and nuclear tests are unacceptable, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview on Sunday in Xiamen.
“At the same time, we are still convinced that the problem of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula can be solved only through dialogue,” he said. “It is premature to talk about new sanctions against North Korea.”
North Korea claimed beforehand it now had a more-developed hydrogen bomb it can mount on an ICBM. It has a multi-functional thermonuclear weapon adjustable from tens of kiloton to hundreds of kiloton that can be detonated at high altitudes for an electromagnetic pulse attack, KCNA said.
The Nuclear Weapons Institute “recently succeeded in making a more developed nuke, true to the strategic intention of (its party) for bringing about a signal turn in nuclear weaponization,” KCNA said. Kim was quoted as saying that North Korea can now produce as many powerful nuclear weapons “as it wants.”
The Trump administration has delivered mixed signals of late on North Korea. After the missile launch over Japan, Trump dismissed the idea of negotiating with the regime while his defense chief said the U.S. hasn’t exhausted its diplomatic options.
After suggesting Kim “is starting to respect us,” Trump on Wednesday returned to a tougher line. “The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!” he said in a Twitter post.
North Korea has said it won’t give up its weapons program until the U.S. drops “hostile” policies such as joint drills with South Korea that ended last week.