At first, most thought it was another earthquake. But the 5.3-magnitude rumble coming from the northeastern corner of North Korea was a potentially much more frightening event: Pyongyang had set off its most powerful nuclear weapon test ever.
World leaders were quick to react to this latest act of defiance. South Korea denounced Pyongyang leader Kim Jong-un for his "maniacal recklessness." Japan, Russia, the U.S., France — all quickly joined in condemning the threat posed by the the biggest of North Korea's biggest of five nuclear tests.
But with each passing provocation coming from North Korea, the world is increasingly counting on one power to step in: China. Not only is it Pyongyang's direct economic ally, but as a neighbor, the stakes are even higher in avoiding that a nuclear confrontation is sparked.
Chinese state news media issued a prompt statement this morning, calling on "all sides" to stop "adding oil to the flames" while the foreign ministry in Beijing said that it was "firmly opposed" to the test. Still, too carefully picked words from a country that has spent the past decade seeking a larger role on the international stage, but has so far failed to take tougher sanctions against its gung-ho neighbor.
We're used to poking fun at the North Korean dictator and his antics. Just yesterday, news reports circulated that Kim Jong-un had banned the use of sarcasm in private conversation, which definitely sounds like a great idea. But toying with nuclear warheads is no laughing matter, and China should know it's even less funny when you're in the neighborhood.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY (& WEEKEND)
- The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca begins.
- Pre-orders for Apple's new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus open.
- Croatia votes in general election, the second in less than a year. (Sunday)