North Korea announced Sunday afternoon that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb ready to be deployed via its newly-developed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The statement followed an earthquake detected by South Korea’s meteorological agency about 10km from the north-eastern Punggye-ri nuclear test site, which was the location of five previous tests. The 6.3 magnitude earthquake shook residents in China’s Jilin province, lasting around 10 seconds and followed by a powerful aftershock.
South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff claimed they had identified an “artificial seismic wave” at 12:29pm local time (11:29pm EDT Saturday). Shortly after, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) announced it had detected a “possible explosion” near to Sungjibaegam in North Korea.
The earthquake originated within a mile of the magnitude 5.3 nuclear test explosion that took place last September, raising immediate concerns that the hermit kingdom had carried out its sixth underground nuclear test in defiance of international law. According to South Korean media, the blast was almost 10 times more powerful than last year’s trial, with a greater yield than any of the North’s previous nuclear tests.
The test came just hours after Pyongyang released images of an apparent hydrogen bomb, ready to be loaded onto its new intercontinental ballistic missile. Shortly after the quake was detected, North Korean state news reported that it had successfully tested a nuclear device.
The KCNA newsreader described the hydrogen bomb test, which was officially ordered and signed off by leader Kim Jong-un, as a “perfect success” and a “meaningful step” in finalizing the country’s nuclear weapons program.
”We’ve reconfirmed our ability to control our missile and nuclear capabilities at any given time, and that we’ve reached a very high level of standards of such technology. Today’s successful test shows the trustworthy system of our nuclear engineering technology.”
Following the report, Japan confirmed that the North had indeed detonated an underground nuclear device. It recorded an official protest through the North Korean embassy in Beijing and assembled an emergency national security meeting.
North Korea has been attempting to develop a nuclear weapon small enough to attach to a long-range ballistic missile and capable of re-entering the earth’s atmosphere without exploding. In July, it tested two ICBMs that were designed to travel up to 10,000 km, far enough to reach the United States mainland.
As well as raising tensions across East Asia, the hydrogen bomb test will be seen as a direct challenge to President Donald Trump and his administration. This is North Korea’s first nuclear test since President Trump was sworn in at the beginning of this year.
Just a few hours prior to the earthquake, Mr. Trump spoke to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about the rapidly escalating crisis in the region.
Kim Jong-un’s army appears dangerous close to manufacturing a nuclear warhead that can be attached to an ICBM, crossing the red line drawn by South Korea’s president. This latest test indicates that Pyongyang is determined to progress as a nuclear-armed state in spite of international sanctions and increasing pressure from Washington and Beijing.
Last month, President Trump threatened the hermit state with “fire and fury” if it threatened the United States or its allies.