N Korea's rocket plan upstages global nuclear summit in Seoul

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 April, 2012, 12:00am


The leaders of South Korea, the United States and China wrapped up a global nuclear security summit last week with stark warnings about the threat of nuclear terrorism.

But the gathering of nearly 60 leaders in Seoul on Monday and Tuesday - called to find ways to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue states - was upstaged by North Korea's plans to launch a satellite on a long-range rocket around April 15, when the country celebrates the birthday of founder Kim Il-sung.

Washington and Seoul viewed the launch as cover for nuclear missile development, and the world focused on how Beijing reacted to the behaviour by its communist ally.

North Korea has been a source of tension between Beijing and Washington, and the latest development clouded the summit and sideline encounters between President Hu Jintao and his US counterpart, Barack Obama.

Chinese state media, particularly those targeting overseas readers and directly under Communist Party and central government control, were mobilised to play their dutiful role, churning out articles to defend China's policy on nuclear affairs and its dubious stance on Pyongyang.

All of the main state newspapers, including party mouthpiece People's Daily, its English-language subsidiary Global Times, and China Daily, attacked Obama over his visit to the North-South Korean demilitarised zone (DMZ). They said the trip would only inflame tensions.

Many newspapers on Monday led with Obama's DMZ visit and featured pictures of him standing on the South Korean side of the line.

'It's annoying and disappointing. The summit is not an anti-North Korea summit. South Korea, as the host country and the US, as the biggest nuclear country, should understand this,' Global Times editorialised on Monday.

In another editorial the next day, Global Times said other major countries were willing to work with the US to prevent nuclear proliferation, but the US never listened seriously to the views of other nations.

Global Times extended its attack to the host nation, saying that neither Obama nor South Korean President Lee Myung-bak appeared to be fully focused on the summit.

'Despite its significance, the gathering itself interests the electorates of both countries much less than Obama's 'photo op' at the 38th parallel,' it said. 'Leaders and senior officials from over 50 countries are attending the summit to discuss nuclear issues rather than participate in US politics.'

China Daily chimed in, saying there was no doubt Obama's DMZ visit 'was calculated to play with voters back home'.

China.com.cn, a news website run by the State Council Information Office, warned that 'such provocative actions clearly cannot put an end to North Korea's determination to launch a satellite'.

China Daily said Washington and its allies might use Pyongyang's satellite launch plan as a reason to increase their military presence in northeast Asia, which could create an even greater imbalance of military power in the region.

However, Beijing's relations with Pyongyang are also love-and-hate affairs. Thus, state media also reflected inconsistent approaches towards the reclusive regime.

People's Daily noted the summit came at a sensitive time: on the second anniversary of the Cheonan incident - the sinking of South Korean naval vessel blamed on North Korea - and the 100th day after the death of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The overseas edition of People's Daily cautioned that 'the situation on the Korean Peninsula is complex and confusing'.

China Daily warned Pyongyang that its plan might worsen the situation on the Korean Peninsula and lead to a new round of UN sanctions over it.

The Economic Observer appeared to reflect Beijing's bottom line over the crisis by saying straightforwardly that 'if North Korea acts willfully and insists on its original plan, China may be forced to translate 'concerns and worries' into specific countermeasures'.

'If the situation develops to that stage, China-North Korea relations are bound to be undermined,' it said. But it is worth noting that such harsh language to a comrade-in-arms can be said only by a non-party or non-national government organ. And, The Economic Observer is said to be privately run, even though it is also affiliated with a government agency, as all mainland media are.