There’s been much condemnation of North Korea’s claims that it successfully tested a “miniaturized” hydrogen bomb.
But it’s unlikely that there will be any real consequences for the isolated nation, experts say.
These claims of a hydrogen bomb have yet to be verified, and experts are sceptical about whether North Korea actually has the capability to carry out such a test. The country is known for propaganda claims that are highly misleading and difficult to prove.
But even so, the Hermit Kingdom’s latest action represents an escalation that, if confirmed, “would be a milestone in the country’s nuclear program,” The Wall Street Journal noted.
Politicians have been quick to condemn North Korea’s actions, but it’s so far uncertain if these statements will go anywhere.
“The international community doesn’t have much rejoinder,” Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group and author of the book “Superpower,” told Business Insider via email.
“China is loathe to cut them off completely,” he continued, referring to the country that has been perhaps North Korea’s most-important benefactor. “Nobody else is itching for a fight. … Obama can write a ‘strongly worded letter,’ but unlike what we are seeing across the Middle East, this leaves the headlines in a week or two.”
Adam Cathcart, an expert on Chinese-North Korean relations and lecturer at the University of Leeds, also predicted that North Korea’s test would have limited geopolitical ramifications.
“One nuclear test isn’t going to throw away [China’s] long-term strategy, but it is going to give ammunition to people who say [China] needs to make a change to North Korean policy,” Cathcart said.
Some within China have long been concerned about the country’s relations with North Korea. And a nuclear test raises the possibility of an accident that could affect China. Many in China “don’t trust the North Koreans to keep it safe,” Cathcart said.
“You’ll frequently hear that China doesn’t want to have collapse in North Korea because they will be overwhelmed with North Korean refugees,” Cathcart said. “China knows how to shut the border down. But radiation, you can’t stop that.”
Still, despite these concerns, China’s relations with the US could affect how the country approaches North Korea.
“For China, I think North Korea is a chess piece rather often in terms of its relationship with the United States and even Japan,” Cathcart said. He explained that the US “is behind a lot of those pressures” to condemn North Korea, and China “doesn’t want to give the Americans that.”
China does want to see North Korea follow its own path by liberalizing its economy while maintaining single-party control.
One path China might take if it wants to push back on North Korea is tightening the border between the two countries and stop allowing North Koreans to travel to China to make money, Cathcart said. But even that would have a limited effect.
“As we’ve seen with the Ebola scare, North Korea shut its northern border for months and they were able to sustain the economic impact of that,” Cathcart said.
North Korea’s most recent confirmed nuclear test came in February 2013.