China raps North Korea over provocative rocket launch
North Korea’s sole major ally China expressed regret on Wednesday at Pyongyang’s long-range rocket launch, saying its nuclear-armed neighbour should abide by United Nations resolutions on the issue.
The world body has already imposed sanctions against the North over its ballistic missile and atomic programmes, and analysts said Beijing – a veto-wielding permanent Security Council member – was likely to support further measures.
This comes as the White House condemned on Wednesday North Korea’s successful launch of a long-range rocket, calling it a “highly provocative act” that threatens regional security.
It is the first high-profile foreign policy incident Xi Jinping has had to deal with since taking over as leader of the ruling Communist Party last month, but Beijing’s longstanding policy was unlikely to change significantly, they added.
“We express regret at the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s launch in spite of the extensive concerns of the international community,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei, using North Korea’s formal name.
He said Pyongyang should observe “relevant” resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, adding: “We hope relevant parties will keep calm and jointly maintain the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.”
China is the North’s biggest trading partner and aid provider, and is seen as one of the few nations with any influence over its regime.
But according to a high ranking western diplomat in Beijing, the two countries’ ties – one of China’s most secretive links – are increasingly strained and last month a senior Chinese official left Pyongyang after only a 24-hour visit.
“The relationship between China and North Korea seems fairly bad at the moment,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “North Korea seems not to pay any attention to China’s advice.”
Beijing had previously expressed concerns over the launch.
Hong reiterated China’s stance that “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has the right to make peaceful use of outer space but this right is also subject to the restriction of relevant UN Security Council resolutions”.
But he did not answer directly when asked whether the launch violated UN resolutions, instead repeating the call for calm and peace.
According to Jia Qingguo, associate dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, Beijing privately views the rocket flight as a breach.
“The Chinese government may support sanctions, but they need to discuss how to use the sanctions. China will not want the sanctions to harm North Korea too much,” he told reporters.
“China’s position on North Korea won’t see a big change” under Xi, he said, but added Beijing could react more strongly if Pyongyang further developed its capabilities – with a nuclear-armed missile a major concern.
Pyongyang insisted the mission was not a banned intercontinental missile test but was designed to place a scientific satellite in orbit, and had achieved its objectives.