Will Pyongyang listen to Beijing?

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Will Pyongyang listen to Beijing?

Chinese President Hu Jintao said yesterday that he has urged North Korea to halt its plan to launch a satellite and delivered his “deep concerns” about the plan to Pyongyang on several occasions. Hu and President Lee Myung-bak agreed at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit to cooperate closely in order to avert the planned rocket launch in mid-April. Hu’s statement illustrates both leaders’ agreement that the launch will have a negative impact on peace on the Korean Peninsula and resumption of the long-stalled six-party talks. It is extremely rare for the North Korean ally to break from its long-standing support of the country.

China took part in drafting and adopting the UN Security Council Resolution 1984 after the North’s first test of a long-range missile and nuclear test in 2009. Article Two of the resolution strictly bans Pyongyang from launching any rockets - whether it be a satellite or a missile. Therefore, the North’s planned firing of the Kwangmyongsong-3 rocket, which is allegedly aimed at putting a satellite into orbit, is a clear violation of the UN resolution.

Hu’s warning to the North reflects his desire to thwart Pyongyang’s defiance of the resolution. His remarks also demonstrate his intention not to allow Pyongyang to put a damper on the resumption of the six-party talks, particularly after the Feb. 29 deal struck between Washington and Pyongyang for food aid in exchange for a moratorium on missile and nuclear tests.

Yet it is not clear if China’s opposition will force Pyongyang to give up the plan, as it is part of events to celebrate the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung and is seen as an ignition point for a “strong and prosperous” nation. Beijing will not likely go so far as to threaten to suspend food aid, as Washington has. And with about 20 days before the launch date, it is hard to exclude the possibility of a dramatic change. Yet, pessimism appears to prevail over optimism at the moment. North Korea has already begun to assemble rocket components around a new launch pad at Tongchang-ri in North Pyongan Province, which suggests that Pyongyang is going ahead with the launch despite the wishes of its biggest ally.

The leaders of 53 countries have all urged Pyongyang to put a stop to its reckless plan. As Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, North Korea must use its money not to develop and launch long-range ballistic missiles but to feed its own starving people.

It is totally ludicrous to think the North could become a powerful nation with citizens who continue to suffer from severe malnutrition.

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