China expresses 'concern' at North Korea's planned missile launch
News that North Korea plans to test a long-range rocket for the second time this year is being seen as brinkmanship by Pyongyang
Agence France-Presse in Seoul
China yesterday said it was concerned at North Korea's plans to launch a rocket later this month, state media reported, while Pyongyang reportedly notified neighbours including Japan of the planned trajectory.
Pyongyang announced on Saturday that it was preparing to carry out its second long-range rocket launch of the year between December 10 and 22, ostensibly aimed at placing a satellite in orbit, after a much-hyped but failed attempt in April.
The announcement was made in the face of a UN Security Council warning that going ahead with the launch would be "extremely inadvisable".
Yesterday Xinhua news agency said: "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."
The United States and its Asian military allies South Korea and Japan have condemned the planned launch as a disguised ballistic missile test that violates UN resolutions triggered by Pyongyang's two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
The Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed senior Seoul official as saying: "The North has notified aviation authorities in nations including Japan that could come under potential danger of the timing and expected path [of the rocket]." China and the Philippines were also likely to have been notified, it said.
China is North Korea's sole major ally, and Pyongyang has increased its reliance on its neighbour in recent years as sanctions over the North's missile and nuclear programmes strangled its ability to secure international credit and trade.
Analysts say the rocket launch plans are a dramatic gesture of defiance towards the international community, and a big challenge to the winner of South Korea's presidential elections.
Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul warned that North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un, were embarking on a high-stakes game of brinkmanship with the international community.
The launch, and in particular a successful launch, was likely to draw sanctions, either from individual countries or concerned nations acting as a bloc.
"The North then would react strongly, probably upping its nuclear activity and possibly carrying out a third nuclear test," Yang said. "And so we get into a vicious circle of escalating tensions."
The North's announcement comes at a time of transition for four of the countries involved in the stalled six-country talks on North Korea.
Japan will hold a general election on December 16, while South Korea will elect a new president on December 19
China, North Korea's main source of economic aid, has just completed its once-in-a-decade transition to a new leadership, and US President Barack Obama is preparing to start on his second term in office.
The launch window provided by Pyongyang also coincides with the one-year anniversary of Kim Jong-un's assumption of power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il.
The potential political impact is particularly strong for South Korea, where the two main presidential candidates have both signalled the need for greater engagement with Pyongyang.
Analysts say the ruling conservative party candidate, Park Geun-hye, daughter of the late former military strongman Park Chung-hee, is most likely to benefit if a rocket launch pushes voter sentiment towards a harder line with the North.
"The launch will make more South Koreans feel disappointed and disillusioned about the North, which eventually helps Park," said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute of Defence Analyses.