In the News – China Warns on North Korea

In the News – China Warns on North Korea

By ANDREW BROWNE in Beijing and EVAN RAMSTAD in Busan, South Korea

China again expressed its “concerns and worries” over rocket-launch plans announced by North Korea ahead of an international nuclear summit in Seoul, as Beijing seeks to portray itself as a peacemaker amid rising pressure on Pyongyang from the U.S. and its allies.

But North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator warned during a visit to Beijing against any attempt to interfere with the launch, a day after Japan’s defense minister said he would consider shooting down a North Korean missile if it poses a danger to that country.

Associated Press South Korean police officers run through a Seoul subway station Tuesday in an antiterrorism exercise ahead of next week's nuclear-security summit.

“The satellite launch is, in every aspect, a part of North Korea’s rights for a peaceful space development [program],” Ri Yong Ho, the Pyongyang official, told Chinese state-run television on Monday, in an interview that aired Tuesday. He was emerging from a Monday night meeting with Chinese envoy Wu Dawei.

“Regarding the planned peaceful satellite launch, should others apply a double standard or inappropriately interfere with our rights, we would have no choice but to respond,” Mr. Ri said, without elaborating.

North Korea said last week that it would launch a satellite-bearing rocket that could take it over Japan’s Okinawan archipelago. Its adversaries widely believe the launch is to test a long-range missile.

Experts point to a similar launch in 2009 that they say was actually a ballistic missile, noting no satellite was ever detected in space. In a dispatch, Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency said: “The launch of the working satellite is an issue fundamentally different from that of a long-range missile.”

The launch plans mark a setback to apparent progress in U.S. efforts to negotiate a halt to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions after the death of dictator Kim Jong Il and the ascension of his son, Kim Jong Eun. The U.S. has said a launch would threaten a Feb. 29 deal to deliver food aid in return for a North Korean nuclear moratorium. Seoul said such a launch would be a “grave provocation” aimed at developing the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Ri is visiting at a sensitive time, as Beijing advocates calm on all sides without overly publicly pressuring Pyongyang. He insisted that Pyongyang’s satellite launch didn’t contravene its nuclear deal with Washington. “Our stance is to proceed with the U.S.-North Korea agreement reached on Feb. 29,” he said.

A senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official on Tuesday reiterated Beijing’s worries over the launch, first expressed on Friday. It is “urgent for relevant parties to remain calm and prevent the situation from escalating and going out of control,” Luo Zhaohui, the director-general of the ministry’s Department of Asian Affairs, told a news briefing. He repeated a Foreign Ministry statement that China has “expressed its worries and concerns.”

But China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu told the same briefing that the issue of North Korea and its satellite launch wouldn’t be on the agenda at the global nuclear-security summit in Seoul next week. Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend the summit along with other world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Mr. Obama will also visit the inter-Korean border known as the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, which every president has done since Ronald Reagan.

China has at times expressed reservations about North Korea’s weapons programs and aggression against South Korea but has been careful to avoid moves that could destabilize the country, for whom it is the major benefactor and largest trading partner.

Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist based at Stanford University who has visited North Korea’s nuclear facilities seven times, emphasized at a conference in Busan, South Korea, on Tuesday that China is the only country that can penalize North Korea if it chooses to, saying Beijing “holds the key to the price” North Korea will pay if it moves forward with its weapons pursuit.

“The U.S. and South Korea hold the key to benefits they will get” for ending it, he added.

Mr. Hecker, who was shown a uranium-enrichment facility when he last visited the North in November 2010, said the rocket launch “makes a mockery” of the Feb. 29 agreement.

Original article can be found here.

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