China put rare public pressure on ally North Korea over its plan to launch a long-range rocket, which is raising tension in the region and could scupper a recent aid deal with the US.
The announcement of the launch immediately threw into doubt recent hopes that the new young head of the family dynasty ruling North Korea was ready to open up more to the international community.
Experts said the planned launch is clearly a ballistic missile test, banned by UN resolutions and would be in line with North Korea’s long-practiced diplomacy of using threats to regional security to leverage concessions from the international community and the US in particular.
It would also be used to boost the stature of the North’s new young leader, Kim Jong-un, who took over after the death of his father Kim Jong-il late last year.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) expressed Beijing’s “worry” when he met North Korean Ambassador Ji Jae-ryong on Friday, Xinhua news agency said.
“We sincerely hope parties concerned stay calm and exercise restraint and avoid escalation of tension that could lead to a more complicated situation,” Xinhua yesterday quoted Zhang as saying.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday called the announcement highly provocative, telling North Korea to honor its obligations, including UN Security Council resolutions banning ballistic missiles.
Washington said a launch carrying a satellite could violate Pyongyang’s agreement last month to stop nuclear tests, uranium -enrichment and long-range missile launches — and thereby scuttle US plans to resume food aid.
Those talks were in part brokered by China and had triggered expectations of a thaw in relations with North Korea under Kim Jong-un.
Their unraveling in less than a month is a major blow to any serious multilateral talks on denuclearizing North Korea and analysts said it was unlikely Pyongyang would back down on the launch planned to coincide with celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il-sung, the current leader’s grandfather.
“It certainly suggests that Pyongyang places greater emphasis on promoting the Kim family cult than on its external relations,” Richard Bush, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution wrote after the North Korean announcement.
Japan said any such launch would violate a Security Council resolution. One Tokyo daily quoted sources yesterday as saying that if the probability of a launch was deemed to be high, Japan would consider deploying PAC3 missile interceptors as it did during a 2009 rocket launch.
Russia, resorting to tough language, warned Pyongyang not to defy the international community. It stressed that the launch would undermine the chances for a revival of long-stalled six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program. South Korea, Japan, Britain, France and others also expressed concern.
The launch is scheduled to take place between April 12 and April 16, about the time South Korea holds parliamentary elections, and just more than three weeks after a global nuclear security summit in Seoul.