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Regional Responses to the North Korean Nuclear Test


Gunjan Singh*


On September 3, 2017, North Korea conducted one of its largest nuclear tests which displayed its increased capabilities as a nuclear power. As a response to this the United Stated has called for increased sanctions and a ban on exporting oil products to North Korea and also banning the import of textiles. It also demanded freezing of assets of Kim Jon-un. This action will be opposed by China and Russia.[1]


As a response to safeguard its territory, the South Korean government decided to deploy the American anti-missile system. However, this has faced major protest at home. These protests followed the announcement by the United States that Washington will impose sanctions on any country which continues to trade with North Korea.[2] Last month the American President, Donald Trump had warned North Korea with major military action calling it “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued with its nuclear plans.[3] But after the hydrogen test conducted by the North Korea, Trump’s attitude appears to have changed. As a response to whether the United States will undertake a military action, the President said, “We’ll see what happens. Certainly, that’s not our first choice, but we will see what happens”.[4] In order to discuss the issue and look for a plausible solution, President Trump discussed the issue over telephone with President Xi Jinping. Trump also called the Theresa May, the British Prime Minister and Malcolm Turnbull the Prime Minister of Australia to discuss the North Korean issue.[5]


However, as a response to this there have been claims made by North Korea that it can actually cause a large scale damage to the United States without actually hitting the American soil. A North Korean news agency claimed that the country is capable of using electromagnetic pulse (EMP) by detonating a hydrogen bomb over the United States. Such a system does not require a proper guidance system and can cause large scale blackouts and thus affect the banking, security and health care system.[6]


After North Korea announced the tests, the Chinese foreign ministry said that, “The Chinese government resolutely opposes and strongly condemns this,” …“We urge North Korea to recognize the determination of the international community to achieve a denuclearized Korean peninsula … and to return to the path of resolving conflicts through dialogue”.[7] The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang had said that, “I would like to say that the current situation on the Korean Peninsula remains highly complex and sensitive, and we hope the relevant parties can make efforts to prevent the escalation of the situation”.[8] Chinese scientists have also made claims that the mountain site which has been used by North Korea for a number of nuclear tests may be fragile and collapse. This will lead to the leaking of radiation which may affect the bordering countries, including China.[9] However, the Chinese President has made no public statement post the test. But on September 5, two days after the test, Chinese army conducted an exercise near Yellow Sea in between China and North Korea. During the exercise the Chinese armed forces intercepted an incoming missile which was to show that it is capable of countering any surprise attack.[10] The American President also said that the Chinese have not been successful in solving the North Korean problem. However, the Chinese government has always been worried about pushing stronger sanctions as that would destabilize the North Korean regime and may lead to a large inflow of refugees. Beijing also is happy to have a stable North Korean regime between the American military presence in South Korea and the Chines border. These considerations make it very difficult for China to push for further sanctions.


President Putin during his meeting with the South Korean President Moon Jae-in responded to the Nuclear test conducted by North Korea by saying that, “Do not succumb to emotions and drive North Korea into a corner. Now more than ever, everyone needs to be calm and avoid steps that lead to an escalation of tension,….Without the political and diplomatic tools, it is extremely difficult to move the situation around. And to be more precise, I think it is impossible at all”.[11]


An analysis of the developments of the last few days only strengthens the argument that the North Korean nuclear problem appears to be difficult to resolve. The concerned parties, (the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea) need to follow one path if they want to see the problem sorted. It also appears that the ongoing rift between the countries is a major advantage which the North Korea has been exploiting. It knows that China and Russia will not be pushing for stronger sanctions and that the United States will not be able to undertake a sole military action without the consent of Japan and South Korea. The recent developments also question the effectiveness of United Nations sanctions.  How this situation is defused will be a test for diplomatic skills of the United States, China and Russia.


* Gunjan Singh is a researcher at the Indian Pugwash Society, New Delhi




[1] “North Korea crisis: US seeks Kim Jong-un asset freeze” BBC News, 7 September, 2017, URL: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41182541, (accessed 7 September, 2017).


[2] “South Korea deploys missile system as US strengthens North Korea trade threat” by Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Tom Phillips in Beijing, The Guardian, 7 September, 2017, URL: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/07/south-korea-deploys-missile-system-as-us-strengthens-north-korea-trade-threat (accessed 7 September, 2017).


[3] “Trump discusses cutting North Korea's nuke capabilities with Chinese president” Fox News, 6 September, 2017, URL: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/09/06/trump-discusses-cutting-north-koreas-nuke-capabilities-with-chinese-president.html (accessed 7 September, 2017).


[4] “Trump’s zigzagging approach to North Korea veers toward military options” By Anne Gearan, The Washington Post, 6 September, 2017, URL: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-zigzagging-approach-to-north-korea-veers-toward-military-options/2017/09/06/44763718-9315-11e7-aace-04b862b2b3f3_story.html?utm_term=.0050ace94a47, (accessed 7 September, 2017).


[5] “Xi and Trump condemn North Korea’s latest nuclear test and vow a coordinated strategy to end threat” by Zhengua Lu, South China Morning Post, 7 September, 2017, URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2110063/trump-and-xi-discuss-north-korean-crisis-phone (accessed 7 September, 2017).


[6] “Millions of American lives could be at stake as North Korea threatens to attack power grid” by Holly McKay, Fox News, 5 September, 2017, URL: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/09/05/millions-american-lives-could-be-at-stake-as-north-korea-threatens-to-attack-power-grid.html (accessed 7 September, 2017).


[7] “China and Russia unite against North Korean nuclear test” South China Morning Post, by Catherine Wong and Liu Zhen, 3 September, 2017, URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2109533/china-condemns-north-korean-nuclear-test, (accessed 7 September, 2017).


[8] China’s Military Trains For 'Surprise Attack' Days After North Korea’s Most Powerful Nuclear Test” By Tom O'Connor, Newsweek, 6 September, 2017, URL: http://www.newsweek.com/china-military-train-surprise-attack-days-north-korea-powerful-nuclear-660359, (accessed 7 september, 2017).


[9] “North Korea mountain used as nuclear test site at risk of collapsing, Chinese scientist says” by Katherine Lam, Fox News, 5 September, 2017, URL: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/09/05/north-korea-mountain-used-as-nuclear-test-site-at-risk-collapsing-chinese-scientist-says.html (accessed 7 September, 2017).


[10] “China ‘shoots down incoming missiles’ during exercise over waters close to North Korea” by Kinling Lo, South China Morning Post, 5 September, 2017, URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2109907/china-shoots-down-incoming-missiles-during-exercise, (accessed 7 September, 2017).


[11] “Putin: North Korea crisis may be 'impossible' to solve” by Hilary Whiteman, CNN News, 6 September, 2017, URL: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/09/06/asia/north-korea-russia-vladivostok/index.html (accessed 7 September, 2017).


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