China Expresses ‘Concern’ Over N. Korean Missile

Despite China’s vow to repatriate North Korean defectors and attempt to support North Korea after the death of Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s plan to launch a long range missile has been a source of dispute. This is the first public sign of tension between the two countries since Kim Jong-un’s succession. Bloomberg Businessweek reports:

Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun met North Korean ambassador Ji Jae Ryong and expressed “worry” about the March 16 announcement, China’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday in a statement. The U.S. said the launch, which is to mark the 100th anniversary of state founder Kim Il Sung’s birth, would negate an agreement last month to provide food aid in exchange for a North Korean moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.

“We sincerely hope parties concerned stay calm and exercise restraint and avoid escalation of tension that may lead to a more complicated situation,” Zhang told Ji, according to the statement. China has noted the international reaction to North Korea’s announcement, Zhang said.

North Korea is dependent on energy and food assistance from China, which has sought to support its neighbor to avoid unrest that could hinder trade and prompt a wave of refugees across its border. Kim Jong Un took over after his father Kim Jong Il died in December and the regime has sought to bolster his image ahead of the April 15 centennial of his grandfather.

China “doesn’t want to give the impression it’s supporting what North Korea is doing,” said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo. “It’s tough for Beijing. They have to criticize it, but they can’t do much more.”

Aside from the criticism from China, North Korean’s planned missile launch has also garnered criticism from the international community. The Times of India adds:

The US, Japan, Britain and others have urged North Korea to cancel the planned launch, calling it a threat to diplomatic efforts and warning that it would violate a UN ban on nuclear and missile activity because the same rocket technology can be used for long-range missiles.
China, North Korea’s main political and economic ally, also expressed rare concern Saturday and called on all parties to exercise restraint.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged North Korea to reconsider next month’s planned launch, and US officials have warned they would not provide 240,000 metric tons of promised food aid if it goes ahead.

According to AFP, North Korea’s planned launch and the resulting criticisms are a repeat of 2009 when North Korea launched a long range missile into Japanese air space and reportedly put a satellite into orbit.

See more on China’s relations with North Korea via CDT.