(Tania Branigan The Guradian, 12 Dec.2012) North Korea’s successful rocket launch has provoked rapid and widespread condemnation, with the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, deploring a clear and “provocative” breach of security council resolutions.
However, a tempered response from North Korea’s main ally, China, which expressed regret but called for a careful reaction, suggests that a push for fresh action by the world body is likely to struggle.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said dialogue was the way forward, adding that China believed the council’s reaction “should be prudent and moderate and conducive to maintaining stability and avoiding escalation of the situation”.
Earlier the White House condemned the act as an irresponsible decision that threatened regional security, while in Britain the foreign secretary warned it would increase tensions and urged Pyongyang to take constructive steps towards denuclearisation.
William Hague added in his statement: “I deplore the fact that the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] has chosen to prioritise this launch over improving the livelihood of its people.”
South Korea’s president held an emergency national security council meeting and the country’s foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan, warned that North Korea would face grave consequences.
Japan immediately requested UN security council consultations on the launch, its foreign ministry said, describing the event as something it “cannot tolerate”.
Morocco, which holds the rotating presidency, said the security council would hold closed-door discussions on Wednesday. The US, Japan and South Korea said last week they would seek further action by the council if the launch went ahead.
Wednesday’s White House statement, from the National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, said: “The international community must work in a concerted fashion to send North Korea a clear message that its violations of UN security council resolutions have consequences.”
Russia and China had both warned North Korea not to go ahead with the launch, but most experts doubted that they would allow a new resolution. Russia voiced “deep regret” on Wednesday, saying North Korea had defied the opinion of the international community.
But Daniel Pinkston, the deputy director of the International Crisis Group’s north-east Asia programme, said that while China might sign up to a presidential statement from the council and criticise North Korea in private, he doubted whether it would take action “that really raises the costs” for the country.
Rory Medcalf, the director of the international security programme at the Lowy Institute, said: “Even if it has achieved what it can claim is a satellite test with a civilian dimension, it does not detract from the impact this will have on strategic mistrust in north Asia.
“I don’t see any good options. It’s not clear what incentives they [the US] were holding out on this occasion to stop the test. Back in April there was an option of withholding the aid package. I’m not sure if there was a similar one in offer so they have even fewer carrots to withhold than last time.”
He added: “The critical question is how the US-China relationship handles this. At least we are going to see Obama come to this from a position of confidence, secure in the knowledge of his second term.”
Wei Zhijiang, professor of international relations at Sun Yat-sen University, said: “The launch didn’t give consideration to China’s security in north-east Asia. Because of the rocket, the US, South Korea and Japan will further strengthen their military co-operation in north-east Asia, which will squeeze the strategic space for China and damage its interests.”
But he said that while North Korea’s move would have some negative impact on bilateral relations, it would not fundamentally affect them.
Leonid Petrov, an expert on North Korea at the University of Sydney, wrote that the launch “sends the strong signal to the world that international sanctions against North Korea don’t work and it’s time to return to the negotiating table.
“Altogether, the launch strengthens Kim Jong-un’s regime and elevates the stakes in the Korean security dilemma to a new height.”