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N. Korean nuclear test condemned as 'challenge to peace'
By Ben Dooley
Beijing (AFP) Jan 6, 2016

Kim Jong-Un cements position with H-bomb claim
Seoul (AFP) Jan 6, 2016 - With a surprise nuclear test two days before his birthday, North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-Un has once again asserted his personal control over the hermit state he inherited from his late father four years ago.

When he came to power after Kim Jong-Il's death in December 2011, the younger Kim was considered untested, vulnerable and likely to be manipulated by senior figures.

But he has proved his mettle in dealing harshly -- sometimes brutally -- with any sign of internal dissent, even at the highest levels, while maintaining an aggressively provocative stance with the international community.

He has shown himself willing to alienate the North's sole major ally China with his unstinting efforts to advance the country's nuclear and missile programmes that culminated in Wednesday's announcement of a "successful" hydrogen bomb test.

The announcement came just two days before his 33rd birthday on January 8 and ahead of a rare ruling party congress scheduled to take place in May -- the first such gathering for 35 years.

Birthdays and other key anniversaries have often been used by North Korea as an excuse to demonstrate its military prowess and glorify its leaders.

With the H-bomb claim, Kim can now boast of a "'great achievement' that even (founding leader) Kim Il-Sung or Kim Jong-Il could not realise," Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University and an expert on North Korea, told AFP.

- Inherited ruling style -

Kim Il-Sung is still widely revered in North Korea, something his grandson has sought to play on by appearing to mimic his hairstyle, dress, mannerisms and public speaking style.

The younger Kim has also continued the time-tested ways of his forebears in selectively stoking tensions with rival South Korea, occasionally extending an olive branch only to snatch it away again.

But he has yet to make an overseas visit as leader, even to traditional ally and economic benefactor China, where his father journeyed repeatedly.

After his father's death, North Korea was quick to burnish the young Kim's credentials, hailing him as head of the powerful military as well as chief of a key ruling party organ.

That left little doubt that he was on track to take full control of the secretive nation, but he was expected to initially rely on a coterie of powerful aides, including his uncle Jang Song-Thaek.

But that expected tutelage was short-lived as Kim started to remove any potential challenges to his authority.

In December 2013, state news agency KCNA announced Jang's execution, condemning him as a "traitor" to the nation and deriding him as "despicable human scum... worse than a dog".

Other purges of high-ranking officials followed, leading some analysts to question whether Kim was truly confident in his own power base.

His refusal to be cowed by international criticism or pressure has been displayed on numerous occasions, including a long-range rocket test late 2012 and a third nuclear test in February the next year.

Kim emerged as North Korea's future leader after his father suffered a stroke in August 2008 and revved up plans for the nation's second dynastic succession, but his early life was largely shrouded in mystery.

Kim Jong-Un was born to his father's third wife, Japan-born ethnic-Korean dancer Ko Yong-Hi, who is believed to have died of breast cancer in 2004.

He studied in Switzerland where reports say he enjoyed basketball and drawing cartoons. School staff and friends remembered a shy boy who liked skiing and Hollywood tough guy Jean-Claude Van Damme.

North Korea's claim that it carried out a successful hydrogen bomb test Wednesday drew swift condemnation from friends and foes alike.

China said it "firmly opposes" its neighbour's actions while NATO condemned the test as a threat to regional and international security.

Several governments promised a firm response as tensions soared, with many calling for further action by the United Nations against North Korea, which is already subject to an array of international sanctions.

The UN Security Council was to hold an emergency session later Wednesday.

China, North Korea's most important diplomatic and economic partner, took a more nuanced stance than others, saying it "firmly opposes" the test and would summon Pyongyang's ambassador for "solemn representations".

It added that dialogue was the "only practical way to resolve the relevant issue".

Beijing is a key provider of aid and trade to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) but relations have become more strained in recent years, in part because of Pyongyang's persistence with its nuclear programme in the face of international condemnation.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has yet to visit Beijing since coming to power following the death of his father four years ago.

"We strongly urge the DPRK side to remain committed to its denuclearisation commitment, and stop taking any actions that would make the situation worse," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing, using the North's official name.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye described the test as a "grave provocation" at an emergency meeting of the country's National Security Council.

"The test is not only a grave provocation to our national security but also a threat to our future... and a strong challenge to international peace and stability," she said, calling for strong sanctions on Pyongyang.

- 'Grave concern' -

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slammed it as "a serious threat to the safety of our nation".

"This clearly violates UN Security Council resolutions and is a grave challenge against international efforts for non-proliferation," he said.

In Washington the White House would not confirm the test, but vowed to "respond appropriately to any and all North Korean provocations".

NATO head Jens Stoltenberg condemned the test and said North Korea should abandon nuclear weapons.

"The nuclear weapons test announced by North Korea undermines regional and international security, and is in clear breach of UN Security Council resolutions," Stoltenberg said in a statement.

The foreign ministry of Russia, a permanent Security Council member, denounced the test as a "flagrant violation of international law and existing UN Security Council resolutions".

"Such actions are fraught with the possibility of aggravating the situation on the Korean peninsula, which already has a very high potential for military and political confrontation," it said.

In a phone call with South Korea's top diplomat Hwang Joon-kook, who leads negotations on North Korea's nuclear disarmament, Russia's deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov expressed Moscow's "grave concern".

Other veto-wielding Security Council members Britain and France also joined in the chorus of condemnation.

Speaking in Beijing, Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the test was "a grave breach of UN Security Council resolutions and a provocation".

Paris labelled the move an "unacceptable violation" of UN resolutions and called for a strong reaction from the international community.

- 'Rogue state' -

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said her country "condemns in the strongest possible terms" the test, which "confirms North Korea's status as a rogue state and a continuing threat to international peace and security", adding that Canberra would express its concerns to Pyongyang directly and call for stronger UN sanctions.

The test, which came just two days before leader Kim's birthday, was initially detected by international seismology monitors as a 5.1-magnitude tremor next to the North's main Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the northeast.

Last month Kim suggested Pyongyang had already developed a hydrogen bomb.

The claim was questioned by international experts and there was continued scepticism over Wednesday's test announcement.

Whether an H-bomb or not, it was North Korea's fourth nuclear test and marked a striking act of defiance in the face of warnings that Pyongyang would pay a steep price if it continued pursuing its atomic weapons programme.

The three previous tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013 triggered waves of UN sanctions. Their failure to prevent a fourth detonation will see calls for more drastic Security Council action this time around.


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