North Korea’s Rocket Launch Riles Neighborhood, but Mild Response from China Expected

Days after it signaled that an upcoming launch might be delayed, North Korea fired a long-range rocket, heightening regional concerns about its growing ability to threaten neighbors

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Lee Jin-man / AP

South Korean protesters shout slogans during a rally denouncing North Korea's rocket launch in Seoul, South Korea on Dec. 12, 2012.

Days after it signaled that an upcoming launch might be delayed, North Korea fired a long-range rocket, heightening regional concerns about its growing ability to threaten its neighbors. North Korean state media said it had launched a weather satellite, and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, confirmed that the rocket appeared to have successfully put an object into orbit.

The launch, which allowed Pyongyang to test its ballistic-missile capability in defiance of U.N. restrictions, angered the U.S. and its Northeast Asian allies. The White House called the launch “a highly provocative act that threatens regional security.” South Korea Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan called the launch “a threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula and around the world,” the Yonhap News Agency reported, while Japan called it “intolerable.” The U.N. Security Council passed resolutions banning North Korea from such launches after its nuclear tests in 2006 and ’09.

(MORE: North Korea Launches a Satellite. Why Now?)

Unlike a similar attempt in April, which exploded shortly into its flight, stages of the Unha 3 rocket launched Wednesday landed in the Yellow Sea, west of the Korean Peninsula, and 300 km east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean, Japanese officials said. That would make it North Korea’s most successful missile flight to date, and a worrying sign that it has resolved technical flaws that have plagued earlier launches. “Initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit,” NORAD said.

China, North Korea’s neighbor and only significant ally, had said it was “concerned” about North Korea’s launch plan but refrained from condemning it beforehand, saying it hopes “all parties concerned can exercise calmness.” Pyongyang’s move comes just one month into China’s political transition, with Xi Jinping taking charge as General Secretary of the Communist Party and its military commission. But while the men at the top are changing in Beijing, there are no signs of a tougher stand toward Pyongyang. “I don’t see changes in China’s North Korea policies,” says Linda Jakobson, director of the East Asia program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Australia. “They will continue to put their own concerns about instability erupting in North Korea before their objective of denuclearization.”

In a commentary published shortly after the launch, China’s state-run Xinhua news service called for a quick return to the six-party talks on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The long-dormant meetings between North and South Korea, China, Russia, the U.S. and Japan were last held in 2007. China, which has hosted the talks, has pushed for their continuation, though a 2009 North Korean missile launch and attacks on a South Korean navy ship and the shelling of a South Korean island in 2010 have blocked any resumption. While Wednesday’s launch will lead to further pressure on China to corral North Korea, China is unlikely to take any steps that might weaken its neighbor. Instead Beijing will look to the U.S. to compromise, says Fang Xiuyu, a North Korea expert at Fudan University in Shanghai. “The pivotal problem of the North Korean nuclear issue is North Korean–American relations,” Fang says. “If there is no improvement in North Korean–American relations, if North Korea’s security has no guarantee, neither China nor the U.S. can persuade North Korea to stop.”

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The launch coincides with events in North Korea marking the first anniversary of the death of leader Kim Jong Il on Dec. 17. It is the most prominent achievement of his youngest son and successor Kim Jong Un, who has reportedly purged several top military officers in an indication of potential challenges to his rule. After eluding his father for more than a decade, the satellite launch should help Kim Jong Un tighten his grip on power and offer a powerful tool for domestic propaganda. “I do see this very much as Kim Jong Un consolidating his position now as the head of the Kim dynasty,” Jakobson says.

The Japanese government says the missile flew over Okinawa, an indicator of North Korea’s ability to menace even the most distant Japanese islands. “The launch is intolerable to Japan, and the government lodges a strong protest to North Korea,” Osamu Fujimura, Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary, said at a press conference. The launch comes just four days before Japan’s general election and a week before South Korea will elect a new President. While the likely impact on voting patterns is unknown, the subject of North Korea’s launch will surely dominate the final days of campaigning.

North Korea attempted to launch a satellite in 1998, and while that was widely believed to be a failure, the regime claimed success. A long-range-missile test in 2006 ended with an explosion shortly after liftoff, and a subsequent test in 2009 also ended in failure. While previous launches had been separated by years, the latest attempt comes just eight months after its failed April launch, raising questions of whether its engineers solved the earlier problems.

Pyongyang had initially announced a Dec. 10–22 launch period, but on Monday the government said it was pushing the window back to Dec. 29 after its technicians found a “technical deficiency in the first-stage control engine module.” Wednesday’s launch within the original timetable came as something of a surprise, then, and displayed again the limits of outsiders to predict the behavior of the isolated regime, even with the aid of satellite imagery of the launch site on North Korea’s west coast. “We know very little, if anything, about North Korea,” says Jakobson. “This was just one more indication.”

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

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7 comments
GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

North Korea is a big problem.

Their nuclear potential, now apparently including the ability to deliver anywhere in the World, is a great concern especially given their militaristic stance and aspirations towards South Korea.

Nuclear conflict and even World War 3 could result.

On the other hand, Japan who is decrying their satellite launch louder than anyone has sent many satellites in to space itself as have we, including the ones looking down on North Korea.

Of course, the satellites themselves aren't really the problem.

The reality is that nuclear weapons and delivery capability are proliferating and unless a truly international process is put into place to limit or stop their spread, it is inevitable that they will eventually spread widely enough where their use is inevitable.

And as it stands, the US, Russia and China will not and apparently cannot cooperate sufficiently among themselves to stop or seriously limit proliferation.

That plus Israel versus the rest of the Middle East make it absolutely inevitable that nuclear weapons will be used and from the way things look, sooner rather than later.

Our best hope is that use is limited and does not spread to Global Thermonuclear War.

gornisht
gornisht

So North Korea pulled the wool over everyone's eyes!  So much for western intelligence! A rogue state defying the UN including the US., South Korea and Japan? This is not ethically correct! So what will the UN. resolution state this time, and what will the consequences be?

PhiDi
PhiDi

I'm not saying that "western powers" should be the heroes of every global crisis, but just imagine if the North Korean missile could reach Washington or London? Would the world then take more aggressive actions than just telling the NK government that the world "condemns their actions" (which have been very effective!)? Are we waiting for something to actually happen before they actually hit something (something like Tokyo or Seoul)? I am not an expert on this - they might be actually be doing something more concrete for all I know. But if the NK government is still confident in flexing its imaginary muscle, then I guess it's not enough."Well, it can hit Japan already... but that's still pretty far away from us."

rktfire7411
rktfire7411

I am still worried for Jenna J. How did she get saved? Will her dui be reduced to accosting a light pole with an SUV? By the way, I still think the stupid hat on Mr. NKA's leadership is about as goofy as mud on a lampshade. How do onions think that looks "sexy"? I wouldn't wear anything like that om The 4th of July.

Over'nYout, dahlink.

MelPol
MelPol

Exploding a nuclear bomb in orbit has become a new North Korean threat. The danger is that they will load the device with mirror like glass pellets and then signal it to burst.  The sky will then be twinkling with tiny blinding bursts of light 24/7 and result in static over cell phones.  Kim Jong-Un is now in the position to demand a trillion dollar stimulus package.

MRblackafella
MRblackafella like.author.displayName 1 Like

what I find funny about this articles is there emphasis on smale states to look like the axis of evil by testing a couple of rockets while they cover up what the imperial superpowers are working on MASS panic and PARANOIA is nothing to this article if you include what the USA is doing with all kinds of weapons THE H.A.A.R.P ,CHEMTRAILS,BOSON PARTICLE FOR MILLITARY USE e.t.c now this is what i call a real threat

TheDisclosure
TheDisclosure like.author.displayName 1 Like

@MRblackafella Agreed my friend. HAARP and all the other projects that are under the table present a much larger threat to the global peace than this. Its time we refocus our attention.