Many intelligence experts, though, speculate that North Korea is doing otherwise and has additional, clandestine uranium facilities throughout the country. A report last year from the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, acknowledging the many unknowns, said the North could have enough weapons-grade uranium for up to 11 nuclear weapons.
North Korea has not conducted a nuclear test under supreme leader Kim Jong Eun, who inherited power when his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December 2011. In state propaganda, the younger Kim is depicted as a smiling man of the people, but in practice, he has doubled down on the strange brand of family-run brinkmanship — all while maintaining the surveillance networks and the labor camps in which about 200,000 North Koreans are imprisoned.
“Kim Jong Eun seems to have concluded it is advantageous to be armed with nuclear weapons” to show off national strength, said Kim Heung-kyu, a professor of politics and diplomacy at Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul.
After North Korea’s statement Thursday, China urged calm from all involved parties, a familiar talking point from Pyongyang’s chief economic partner. Another nuclear test would present a particular challenge for new Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his lieutenants, who are torn between supporting a key ally and maintaining international credibility.
In the latest Security Council deliberations, China agreed to support a resolution tightening sanctions against the North. Resolution 2087 also condemned the North’s Dec. 12 rocket launch and reasserted that the North not proceed with further launches or nuclear tests. The latest sanctions also take aim at key figures and trading corporations involved in North Korea’s space program, freezing assets and attempting to stop the trade of weapons technology.
Resolution 2087 also promises “significant action in the event of a further [North Korean] launch or nuclear test.”
Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Peking University in Beijing, said China is likely to support another round of sanctions if the North conducts a third nuclear test.
“China has no option but to support the U.N.,” Zhu said. “Under such a situation, Kim Jong Eun should make serious considerations about the consequences. Anther nuclear test by North Korea could heighten the unrest in Northeast Asia.”
Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung in Washington, Yoonjung Seo in Seoul and Liu Liu in Beijing contributed to this report.