Kimís dangerous game

North Korea's nuclear ambitions present a test for Chinese policy and American resolve

North Korea's third "miniaturised" nuclear test on Tuesday is a bombshell dropped on the emerging consensus that the "golden age of East Asia" is round the corner. It is evident now that the region's diverging strategic calculus may cloud converging economic interests. Building on earlier nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, an increasingly isolated North Korea has clearly defied warnings from not only the US and its allies but also friends like China and Russia. This test is a violation of the UN Security Council resolution which restricts its nuclear ambitions. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called upon the international community to take strong measures against Pyongyang. US President Barack Obama has made it clear China's "wilful blindness" cannot be tolerated, and called the test "highly provocative". To the surprise of many, China has, this time, openly displayed its displeasureand its foreign minister said Beijing "firmly opposed" the test. Russia has also joined the chorus of condemnation.

The dangerous geopolitical game initiated by the North's new regime, led by the young and inexperienced Kim Jong-un, suggests the country is trying to take refuge in the strong nationalist constituency that harbours a deep-seated suspicion of China, antagonism against Japan and lingering doubts about the US role during the Korean War. North Korea's historiography argues that, in the past, the "Southern part of the land" (currently South Korea) allied with China's Tang dynasty against the northern Goguryeo dynasty (currently North Korea). Nationalists in North Korea rebuff Chinese civilisational influence on the Korean peninsula. Kim Il-Sung, the founder of North Korea and the grandfather of the current leader, chalked out this nationalist path, which found expression in

North Korea's Juche ideology and the policies aimed at "self-reliance". The grandson tries to emulate him to bolster public support and the military's backing.

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