Leaders of the BRICS grouping of emerging economies said on Monday they “strongly deplore” North Korea’s latest nuclear test and hydrogen-bomb claim, which has overshadowed the five-nation group’s annual summit.
Their joint statement from the summit in the Chinese city of Xiamen added to world condemnation of North Korea, which announced on Sunday that it had detonated a powerful hydrogen bomb that it claims can fit on a long-range missile.
“We strongly deplore the nuclear test conducted by the DPRK,” BRICS leaders said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name. BRICS is made up of Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa and summit host China—North Korea’s longtime patron. “We express deep concern over the ongoing tension and prolonged nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula,” said the declaration. It added that BRICS collectively believe the issue “should only be settled through peaceful means and direct dialogue of all the parties concerned.”
The North Korean move dramatically raised the stakes in its standoff with the world and upstaged the BRICS summit, which Chinese President Xi Jinping opened earlier Monday and had hoped would spotlight Beijing’s claims to developing-world leadership. The nuclear test was a slap in the face for Beijing, and China’s foreign ministry condemned it hours after it took place. The ministry added on Monday that it had “launched stern representations” with North Korea’s embassy in China.
The summit includes Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, Michel Temer of Brazil and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma.
Pyongyang’s actions marked the second time this year that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un timed the use of his banned weapons programs apparently to steal Xi’s thunder on the world stage. In May, Pyongyang conducted a missile test that embarrassed Xi just as he was hosting a large international summit on trade.
Some analysts believe such provocations may be aimed at pressuring China to in turn push Washington to engage directly with Pyongyang. The nuclear test and H-bomb claim could throw into sharper relief the divisions over how to deal with Pyongyang.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who has previously threatened to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea if it endangers America by raising the nuclear stakes, denounced the test as “very hostile and dangerous” and left open the possibility of a military response. Russia and China, however, have pressed for a diplomatic solution.
Putin condemned the nuclear test, North Korea’s sixth and most powerful, in a phone call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to the Kremlin, but called for diplomacy. Both Xi and Putin are due to hold press conferences on Tuesday in Xiamen.
BRICS was already struggling to paper over doubts about its own cohesion that have spiked as nuclear-armed China and India engaged in a protracted standoff over a disputed Himalayan region. They backed off last week—perhaps to avoid ruining the summit—but the issue remains a source of tension.
BRICS nations comprise more than 40 percent of humanity. The grouping came together a decade ago to advocate for the developing world’s interests. But policy analysts have increasingly questioned its usefulness, pointing out that its members have little in common and are too distracted by economic challenges of their own to achieve much as a group.
China’s economic expansion is slowing while India seems on the rise. Slumping commodity prices have hit hard the economies of exporters Russia, Brazil and South Africa, while Temer and Zuma face political turmoil at home.
Many economists view BRICS achievements to date as low-hanging fruit that take the bloc little closer to its goal of re-aligning the global economic and governance system. Little of consequence is expected from the summit.