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North Korea claimed it carried out a successful hydrogen bomb test on Wednesday, in a broadcast at midday Pyongyang time on Korean Central Television (KCTV).
The announcement followed the detection of an artificial earthquake which took place two hours earlier near the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
“The DPRK’s first hydrogen thermonuclear weapon test was successfully conducted at 10 in the morning,” a KCTV announcer said during the early broadcast.
North Korea claimed it was reacting to Washington’s long-standing nuclear arsenal, though even mentioned recent focus on the DPRK’s human rights violations among reasons for the test.
“The U.S. has gathered forces hostile to (the) DPRK and raised a slanderous human rights issue to hinder (the) DPRK’s improvement.”
“It is (therefore) just to have H-bomb as self-defense against the U.S. having numerous and humongous nuclear weapons. The DPRK’s fate must not be protected by any forces but DPRK itself,” the KCTV statement continued.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) also later issued a statement on the test, saying it meant “a higher stage of the DPRK’s development of nuclear force.”
“The DPRK’s access to H-bomb of justice, standing against the U.S., the chieftain of aggression watching for a chance for attack on it with huge nukes of various types,” the article read.
Hydrogen bombs have the potential for higher power configurations than the plutonium-based devices North Korea has previously tested. Notably, Kim Jong Un made headlines in December when he claimed the DPRK already possessed hydrogen-upgraded weaponry.
“If its true that North Korea has detonated a thermonuclear device, then they have demonstrated considerable technological advancement in the field, though obviously this remains unverified,” NK News director of intelligence John Grisafi said. “If true, however, it also indicates they have likely dedicated significant resources to the effort.”
Bruce Bechtol, associate professor of political science at Angelo State University, said that more advanced weaponry would increase the threat to countries in the region and the U.S.
“If in fact it was a hydrogen test, this means the North Koreans are advancing their nuclear weaponization program at a faster and more efficient (and deadly) pace than most analysts have predicted in the past.”
The test was conducted in the DPRK’s North Hamgyong province, near the border of Ryanggang. The Punggye-ri nuclear test site is located in this area. According to world-earthquakes.com, the depth of the seismic event was 10km. However, subsequent reports disputed this, with some indicating a detonation taking place just under the surface.
North Korea has now conducted four nuclear tests, with the most recent coming just two days before Kim Jong Un’s birthday. Previous tests have triggered international condemnation and further rounds of sanctions on the DPRK, though have apparently done little to sway the North from its nuclear ambitions.
“The North Korean leadership is firmly committed to its nuclear program and is little influenced by external factors. The timing of tests may be marginally affected by external considerations, but the primary factor is technical,” David Straub, Associate Director of the Korea Program at Stanford told NK News.
Despite the test’s potential to destabilise the region in the short term, Dr Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University was skeptical there would be any longer term consequences.
“Ramifications? What ramifications? A bit of noise, and perhaps another UN Security Council resolution which will change little or nothing, but nothing of substance.”
“In short term, it will definitely have an impact (on North Korea’s relations with its neighbors), but not in the long run,” Lankov added.
The test comes amidst strained ties with long-standing ally China, which saw the DPRK recently cancel a state organized concert in Beijing at the last minute.
“It seems that North Korea and China have had a collision as we can see by the withdrawal of the Moranbong band, and Kim Jong Un made a sudden decision,” Cho Han-bum, senior researcher at the Korea Institution of National Unification (KINU) told NK News.
One of the nearer term impacts could be to derail hopes of continued cooperation between North and South Korea. Prior to the test, hopes for further reconciliatory moves between Seoul and Pyongyang had emerged following a landmark deal on August 25 last year.
“(The test) means the North Korean leadership has made the decision that warming up to the South is no longer a viable option for the present time. If it is a nuclear test, the South – and its key allies – will likely suspend any talks, and possibly inflict more sanctions on the DPRK,” Bechtol said.
North Korea’s official statement on KCTV also mentioned that “true peace is not made at a disgraceful conference.” The statement is particularly noteworthy in the wake of the recent death of Kim Yang Gon on December 29, which has been viewed with considerable suspicion among the North Korea watcher community.
Kim was Pyongyang’s point man on relations with the South and the North’s primary negotiator in talks held last August.
North Korea has previously conducted nuclear tests on October 9, 2006, May 25, 2009, and February 12, 2013, with explosive yields of less than one kiloton, 2-4 kilotons and 6-7 kilotons, respectively.