U.N. Chief Blasts North Korea’s Declared Nuke Test as Security Council Weighs Penalties

China holds out hopes that the apparent hydrogen test could trigger a new round of diplomatic talks with the hermit kingdom.

By , a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy.
A man watches a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's nuclear test at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2015. North Korea said it successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb, the fourth time it has detonated a nuclear device and a move that reignites tensions with neighbors including China after months of calm. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A man watches a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's nuclear test at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2015. North Korea said it successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb, the fourth time it has detonated a nuclear device and a move that reignites tensions with neighbors including China after months of calm. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A man watches a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's nuclear test at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2015. North Korea said it successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb, the fourth time it has detonated a nuclear device and a move that reignites tensions with neighbors including China after months of calm. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday issued a stern condemnation of North Korea’s declared nuclear test, warning that the apparent underground nuclear explosion threatens to undermine the region’s security as well as efforts to contain the spread of nuclear weapons around the globe.

Speaking to reporters outside the U.N. Security Council before an emergency meeting on North Korea, Ban called the announced test by Pyongyang a “deeply troubling“ provocation that undermines numerous Security Council resolutions and flouts an international moratorium by the rest of the world on nuclear tests.

“This act is profoundly destabilizing for regional security and seriously undermines international nonproliferation efforts,” said Ban, who declined to take questions from reporters. “I condemn it unequivocally. I demand that the DPRK cease any further nuclear activities.” North Korea is officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday issued a stern condemnation of North Korea’s declared nuclear test, warning that the apparent underground nuclear explosion threatens to undermine the region’s security as well as efforts to contain the spread of nuclear weapons around the globe.

Speaking to reporters outside the U.N. Security Council before an emergency meeting on North Korea, Ban called the announced test by Pyongyang a “deeply troubling“ provocation that undermines numerous Security Council resolutions and flouts an international moratorium by the rest of the world on nuclear tests.

“This act is profoundly destabilizing for regional security and seriously undermines international nonproliferation efforts,” said Ban, who declined to take questions from reporters. “I condemn it unequivocally. I demand that the DPRK cease any further nuclear activities.” North Korea is officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK.

The U.N. chief’s stern remarks followed a chorus of international condemnation of North Korea’s third nuclear test since its 2006 detonation — and its second since the hermit kingdom’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, ascended to power in 2012.

North Korea’s regional rivals, South Korea and Japan, vowed to press for tough action by the Security Council to punish Pyongyang for its persistent violations of U.N. resolutions demanding that it cease such tests.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said she would work with the international community to “make sure that North Korea pays the corresponding price for the nuclear test,” according to Yonhap news agency. Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, declared the test a “major threat to our country’s security.”

But it remained unclear how far the Security Council was prepared to go in punishing North Korea, as China highlighted the need to remain focused on reopening diplomatic talks with Pyongyang.

In the past, China has acceded to pressure by the United States, Japan, and South Korea to apply limited sanctions aimed at curtailing North Korea’s ability to advance its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program.

But Beijing has routinely resisted repeated efforts by Washington and its allies to impose harsh economic and diplomatic sanctions that could further isolate the hermit kingdom.

Instead, China has stepped up calls to resume so-called “six-party talks” aimed at resolving the standoff and convincing North Korea to shutter its nuclear weapons program. The United States has reacted coolly to China’s proposal to restart the talks, which involve the United States, China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and Russia.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, in Beijing on Wednesday, denounced the alleged test as a “grave breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions” and pressed China’s top diplomat to help broker a tough response at the United Nations. 

“I have discussed this matter today in Beijing with my Chinese counterpart, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, and we have agreed to work with other members of the U.N. Security Council towards a robust international response,” Hammond said in a statement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying expressed frustration with North Korea’s action, noting it had not been informed in advance of Pyongyang’s plans to detonate an explosive — and underscoring Beijing’s strong opposition.

“Today, [Pyongyang] ignored the general objection from the international community and conducted a nuclear test once again,” she said, according to the Washington Post. But she also reiterated China’s long-standing hope for the reopening of diplomatic talks: “China will resolutely promote the goal of denuclearization on the peninsula and stick to solving the peninsula nuclear issues through the six-party talk framework.”

The test, meanwhile, seemed to dim chances that Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, would have an opportunity to play his long-sought role in mediating the crisis. Ban has planned to visit North Korea and convince its young leader to repair his relationship with the outside world.

Last spring, Ban scheduled a visit to the Kaesong industrial park, a jointly run business center in North Korea that sits a few miles north of the demilitarized zone and border with South Korea. That would have been the first visit to North Korea by a sitting U.N. secretary-general since Boutros Boutros-Ghali traveled to Pyongyang in 1993 to meet Kim Il Sung. Former Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim visited Pyongyang twice, once in 1979 and again in 1981.

But North Korea canceled the trip at the last minute, after Ban criticized the country’s missile test. More recently, Ban has expressed an interest in paying a visit to the North. But his terse condemnation of Pyongyang on Wednesday is likely to put any such trip on the back burner.

Photo credit: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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