After North Korea’s failed rocket launch earlier this year and China’s subsequent backing of a UN statement calling for harsher consequences if another launch is attempted, the New York Times reports North Korea plans to try to launch a long-range rocket later this year:
The launching, which North Korea said would take place between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22, is likely to prompt international condemnations and heighten tensions with Washington and its allies. Critics consider North Korea’s launching of a Unha-3 rocket a cover for testing technology for intercontinental ballistic missiles that could eventually be used to carry nuclear weapons.
Saturday’s announcement came at a delicate time in the region. South Korea is gearing up for a presidential election on Dec. 19, and Japan plans parliamentary elections on Dec. 16. In Washington, President Obama will begin his second term in January.
The North’s announcement also came a day after Mr. Kim met a delegation sent by China’s new leader, Xi Jinping. South Korean news media had speculated that one of the missions of the Chinese delegation might be to try to persuade Pyongyang to refrain from launching a rocket again, with satellite photos appearing to indicate launching preparations.
If so, North Korea’s apparent rejection would be particularly brazen, given that Mr. Xi has just been elevated. China is North Korea’s only real ally, and a source of much-needed aid and trade, but Pyongyang has ignored some of China’s requests in the past.
Pyongyang’s plans come amid recent tensions between North Korea and China due to failed business ventures and the detention of Chinese fisherman. China has expressed ‘concern’ over Pyongyang’s satellite, from AFP:
“China … expressed its concern about the satellite launch plan of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, saying it hopes relevant parties can act in a way that is more conducive to the stability of the Korean peninsula,” Xinhua news agency said.
“North Korea has the right to the peaceful use of outer space, but this right is limited by the relevant Security Council resolutions,” the agency quoted foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang as saying.
As in April, North Korea said the launch would be a purely “peaceful, scientific” mission aimed at placing a polar-orbiting earth observation satellite into orbit.
The launch, and in particular a successful launch, would likely draw sanctions, either from individual countries or concerned nations acting as a bloc, a move analysts say could trigger Pyongyang to step-up its nuclear programme.
According to Yonhap News, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, called for the maintaining of peace on the Korean peninsula:
“Peace and security must be maintained on the Korean Peninsula,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a group of South Korean reporters early last week when they called on him. “We are pleased to support anything leading to improvement in inter-Korean relations. In this context, we are concerned about any provocations hurting peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.”
Hong’s remarks were made just days before North Korea announced Saturday it would launch a rocket in mid-December to put a satellite into orbit.
Another senior Chinese official, asking anonymity, told South Korean reporters recently that North Korea has the right to develop technology for the peaceful use of space, but added that right should be used in accordance with international regulations.
Hong, however, fell short of categorizing the possibility of a North Korean rocket launch as a breach of U.N. resolutions, saying, “I do not want to respond to hypothetical questions.”
North Korea said it would carry out its second rocket launch of 2012 as its youthful leader Kim Jong-un flexes his muscles a year after his father’s death, in a move that South Korea and the United States swiftly condemned as a provocation.
China, under new leadership, is North Korea’s only major political backer and has continually urged peace on the Korean peninsula, where the North and South remain technically at war after an armistice, rather than a peace treaty, ended the 1950-53 conflict.
“North Korea wants to tell China that it is an independent state by staging the rocket launch and it wants to see if the United States will drop its hostile policies,” said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace Affairs at Seoul National University.
The failed April rocket launch took place to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung and the latest test will take place close to the December 17 date of the death of former leader Kim Jong-il.