North Korea rocket launch roundly condemned
Beijing expresses regret but defends North's right to explore space and urges cautious UN response
North Korea's rocket launch has propelled the nation even further to the fringes of the global community, with long-time patron China expressing "regret" amid the global chorus of criticism.
Yesterday's surprise launch triggered an emergency session of the UN Security Council, which has imposed round after round of sanctions against North Korea over its ballistic missile and nuclear programmes, to little avail.
Beijing, the North's sole major ally and its biggest trade partner and aid provider, responded swiftly with the rare note of concern and pressed the country to abide by UN resolutions.
But in a commentary, Xinhua also decried "bellicose rhetoric and gestures" by all concerned, and defended North Korea's right to explore space.
"China believes the Security Council's response should be cautious and moderate, protect the overall peaceful and stable situation on the Korean peninsula and avoid an escalation," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
The launch caught the world off guard. Just the day before a succession of South Korean media outlets, citing satellite imagery analysis by diplomatic and military sources, suggested the launch was facing a delay.
The launch was independently verified by the North American Aerospace Defence Command, which said Pyongyang "deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit".
North Koreans danced in the streets of their capital while the United States, Japan and South Korea condemned the launch.
Analysts said Beijing's influence over North Korea was limited. "North Korea has been China's headache for a while and it is not the first time that Beijing failed to influence Pyongyang's behaviour," said Shi Yinhong , a regional security expert with Renmin University.
Fu Kuncheng, of Xiamen University, said: "It is a misconception, particularly among diplomats from the United States, Japan and South Korea, that Beijing can control Pyongyang or influence its policy decision."
Reuters, Associated Press