Time to seek ways to resolve nuclear issue
Ever unpredictable, North Korea surprised the world again Wednesday morning when it claimed that it carried out a "successful'' hydrogen bomb test. The claim, if true, will signify that the isolated regime in Pyongyang has made a major leap in its nuclear weapons capabilities.
In a special broadcast, the North said, "The republic's first hydrogen bomb test was successfully conducted at 10 a.m. on Jan. 6, based on the strategic determination of the Workers' Party.'' Pyongyang has conducted three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.
It's premature to accept the North's claim at face value, given a lack of convincing scientific evidence and rightful skepticism voiced by experts regarding the impoverished state's technical expertise.
Even so, our policymakers need to reflect on whether they were complacent about Pyongyang's nuclear moves. Last month, North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un said that the North had already developed a hydrogen bomb while touring a weapons industry site. But his claim was met with skepticism at the time.
The North's announcement also comes as a surprise because Kim didn't make an explicit reference to the country's nuclear weapons program in his annual New Year's address on Friday.
The international community strongly condemned Pyongyang's claim that the regime successfully conducted a hydrogen bomb test. Seoul, in particular, vowed to take all necessary measures to penalize its nuclear-armed neighbor. The United States, South Korea's ally, also slammed the North's provocations and pledged to respond appropriately.
North Korea's blast ― whether it was the first hydrogen bomb test or its fourth atomic bomb test ― is certain to raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula in the early days of this new year. The test also tasks the international community with greater challenges and makes finding a resolution to Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal all the more elusive.
It's not clear why the North opted to abruptly conduct a test, but it seems intended to solidify Pyongyang's position as a de facto nuclear weapons state and enhance its negotiating power with Seoul and other countries. North Korea's latest provocation might signal that the isolated state could deviate from its recent mode of limited dialogue with the South and go its own way, especially as far as its nuclear weapons program is concerned.
Wednesday's nuclear test is in clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from conducting any ballistic missile or nuclear tests. It's beyond debate then that the North should pay the highest price for its reckless actions.
The problem is that the international community has no other viable option but to slap additional sanctions against the regime in Pyongyang despite doubts about the efficacy of such measures. That's why Seoul should be more proactive than ever to resolve the North's nuclear weapons logjam once and for all. This will require our officials to be much bolder about finding ways to make a breakthrough in the stalled inter-Korean relationship.
We also take note of the role of China, North Korea's chief ally, which must have felt frustration with the North's latest test in defiance of repeated warnings issued. A creative response from Beijing will certainly be lauded.