Tensions rise as North Korea plans another rocket test
South Korea has warned of "searing" consequences if North Korea doesn't abandon plans to launch a long-range rocket that critics call a banned test of ballistic missile technology.
The South's rhetoric about unspecified harsh consequences comes less than a month after North Korea's defiant fourth nuclear test and as diplomats at the UN work on strong new sanctions against the North.
North Korea yesterday informed international organizations of its plans to launch an Earth observation satellite on a rocket between February 8 and 25, and if North Korea's past patterns are any clue, angry warnings by its neighbours and Washington probably won't dissuade a coming launch.
The launch declaration, which is meant to warn civilians, shipping and aircraft in the area about the rocket and falling debris, follows North Korea's disputed claim on January 6 to have tested a hydrogen bomb, the country's fourth nuclear test.
A launch would be seen as a snub by North Korea of its only major ally, China, whose representative for Korean affairs landed in the North for talks yesterday.
South Korean and US officials said the launch would threaten regional security and violate UN Security Council resolutions that ban the country from engaging in any ballistic activities.
"We warn that if North Korea proceeds with a long-range missile launch, the international society will ensure that the North pays searing consequences for it as the launch would constitute a grave threat to the Korean Peninsula, the region and the world," senior South Korean presidential official Cho Tae-yong said in televised remarks.
In Washington, Daniel Russel, the top diplomat for East Asia, said the US was tracking reports of the North's planned launch. He said a launch that uses ballistic missile technology would be another violation of a UN ban and strengthens the argument for the international community to impose "real consequences" on North Korea for destabilising behaviour.
He called for the imposition of tough additional sanctions.
Russel said a launch "would be an unmistakable slap in face to those who argue that you just need to show patience and dialogue with the North Koreans but not sanctions," in an apparent reference to China.
China urged restraint over North Korea's announcement of its launch plans, and expressed scepticism over the US calls for tough new sanctions.
"We hope all sides show restraint and take prudent action to avoid any moves that may increase the tensions on the (Korean) Peninsula," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regularly scheduled news briefing.
Russia, a member of long-stalled six-nation talks on North Korean nuclear disarmament, said in a statement that the North "is displaying glaring disdain for generally recognised norms of international law" by violating UN Security Council resolutions, and urged it to "realistically assess all negative consequences of such shortsighted moves."