Western analysts used to dismiss North Korea’s tests as political stunts, meant to impress the domestic audience, capture international attention and leverage aid. Though the latest detonation came on a national holiday, that explanation is looking implausible. As it has frequently said publicly, the regime now aims to be recognized as a nuclear power and to acquire the ability to deter not just South Korea and Japan, but also the United States.President Obama reiterated Friday that “the United States does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state.”But Mr. Obama has failed to take the North Korean buildup seriously enough. For years, his administration pursued a policy of “strategic patience,” which mostly consisted of ignoring North Korea while mildly cajoling China to put more pressure on the regime.In February, Mr. Obama signed into law a bill pushed by congressional Republicans that gave him broad new powers to sanction North Korea and cut off its economic lifelines. The next month, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution imposing new sanctions on the regime, including limits on its trade.However, China has not aggressively implemented the U.N. sanctions — and Mr. Obama has not used the powers Congress gave him. As The Post’s Anna Fifield recently reported, customs data shows that China’s trade with North Korea in June was almost 10 percent higher than the previous year, in spite of the sanctions. Though the White House has issued executive orders sanctioning Mr. Kim and other senior leaders, congressional leaders point out that it has yet to penalize any Chinese companies or banks for continuing to do business with the regime.
China, Pyongyang’s only major ally, has said it will lodge a diplomatic protest with North Korea’s embassy over the nuclear test.State news agency Xinhua released a commentary on the explosion on Friday, saying North Korea had “dealt yet another heavy blow to the foundation of regional security, its own security included”.China had earlier said it was “strongly opposed” to the test.
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