World struggles to react to North rocket launching

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World struggles to react to North rocket launching

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Kim Sook, right, the permanent representative of South Korea to the United Nations, speaks to the media Wednesday at United Nations Headquarters in New York. He addressed the media after Security Council consultations on the successful long-range rocket launch by North Korea the day before. [AP/YONHAP]

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This photo released by North Korea’s KCNA on Wednesday shows the Unha-3 carrier rocket lifting off with the satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 on a monitor screen at the satellite control center. [YONHAP]

The international community yesterday stepped up efforts to punish North Korea for its surprise rocket launch, while speculation grew that Pyongyang’s next move will be a test of a nuclear device.

North Korea rattled the world on Wednesday by putting what it calls a satellite into orbit in an apparent demonstration that it has developed missile technology capable of reaching the United States.

After an emergency meeting, the United Nations Security Council condemned the launch and reminded the North that the move was a clear violation of earlier Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874.

The brief statement released after the meeting said “an appropriate response” will be considered “given the urgency of the matter.”

South Korea’s Ambassador to the UN Kim Sook attended the meeting in an observer capacity as Korea is an upcoming member of the council whose term begins next year.

After two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, North Korea was put under international sanctions. After a botched missile launch last April, the council warned that it would take “action” if there was any new attempt.

South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman Cho Tai-young said yesterday Seoul wants the Security Council to inflict stronger punishment than it did last April.

“There are some theoretical possibilities such as maritime and financial sanctions,” he said, refusing to elaborate.

North Korea’s main economic partner is China, but the communist superpower has been reluctant to respond strongly after Pyongyang’s provocations. A senior source from the South Korean government repeated concerns yesterday that the key challenge is persuading Beijing to punish Pyongyang.

China adopted no bilateral sanctions on the North after its two nuclear tests and only follows UN sanctions. As of this month, 11 North Korean entities and five individuals are on the UN sanctions list. Including them, 38 North Korean entities and 25 individuals are under international sanctions, including unilateral sanctions by the U.S. and Japan.

“The UN Security Council should have imposed stronger measures in April after the botched launch,” the senior Seoul official said. “But because of China’s reluctance, the Security Council couldn’t do that. North Korea probably judged at the time that the punishments were bearable so it decided to go ahead with developing a means of delivering nuclear weapons. I am worried that if we repeat the pattern again this time, the North will get the wrong message and be encouraged to conduct a nuclear test.”


Admitting that it would be hard to persuade China to punish the North, the South has prepared a measure to go after Pyongyang through reinforced maritime shipping sanctions, the source said.

The government revised the enforcement ordinance of the Public Order in Open Ports Act, which governs the safety of shipping traffic in an open port, to use against the North. The amendment was made in October, following the botched missile test last April.

Under the changed ordinance, a foreign vessel that enters a South Korean port after making a visit to a North Korean port within the previous 180 days is required to obtain the authorization of the government. Before the revision, authorization was required for a ship that visited the North in the previous 60 days.

The source said the measure, if implemented, will be applied to hundreds of foreign ships annually. “We are currently considering this plan,” he said. “When the necessary time comes, we will talk with like-minded countries to cooperate with this sanction.”

The United States also started pressing China to punish its long-time ally.

“We will continue to work with our international partners to ensure that the North Korean regime is further isolated, that it is further punished for its flagrant violations of international obligations,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a press briefing. “We engage with the Chinese and the Russians and others on the Security Council and beyond in our effort to build a consensus about the unacceptability of North Korea’s actions.”

U.S. Defense Undersecretary James Miller met with Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of staff of the Chinese Army, in Washington and requested that China use its influence.

“He urged China to work with the United States and the international community to insist that North Korea live up to its commitments, adhere to its international obligations and deal peacefully with its neighbors,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

South Korean Ambassador to China Lee Kyu-hyung met with Wu Dawei, special representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs, Wednesday night and urged Beijing to use its influence on Pyongyang.

With the rocket launch, the North’s leader Kim Jong-un presented a new challenge for China’s new leader Xi Jinping and the latest security headache for the Barack Obama administration’s second term.

“The rocket launch was Kim Jong-un’s message to the U.S. and China,” said Huh Moon-young, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Korea Institute for National Unification. “It’s a message that he wants something more.”

Concerns also escalated that the North will up its demands by conducting a nuclear test, which would be its third. Before South Korean lawmakers on Wednesday, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin talked about the possibility.

North Korea has a history of nuclear tests after long-range missile tests. After firing the Taepodong-2 missile in July 2006, the North conducted its first nuclear test three months later.

An April 2009 missile test was followed by the second nuclear test one month later.

“We believe the North will test its enriched uranium-based weapon within six months,” said Cheon Seong-whun, senior research fellow of the Korea Institute for National Unification.

“Beijing and Washington already made very clear their positions against Pyongyang’s missile firing, but the North still went ahead with it,” said Huh. “It indicates that the Kim Jong-un leadership will likely walk a very aggressive, unpredictable path.”

Sources in Beijing said yesterday that China was kept in the dark about Pyongyang’s surprise firing of the missile.

A diplomatic source in Beijing told the JoongAng Ilbo that North Korea did not give prior notice to China before launching the rocket Wednesday. Another source confirmed that.

“After the North fired the rocket, China appeared perplexed,” he said. “I was able to confirm through multiple channels that Beijing was not notified in advance.”

The North gave prior notice to China before making a public announcement that it would fire the rocket between Monday and Dec. 22.

When the North unsuccessfully tested a rocket last April, China was not informed in advance, Chinese diplomatic sources said earlier.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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