North Korea reportedly wrapped up the process of putting the Unha-3 rocket on its launchpad yesterday to test-fire a long-range missile disguised, as before, as an attempt to launch a satellite into space. When Pyongyang installs radar, measurement equipment, cameras and injects fuel into the rocket, it’ll be ready to shoot the three-stage missile from a launch station in Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province, anytime between Monday and Dec. 22, as it has declared. Despite concerted efforts by South Korea, the United States and China to deter the recalcitrant regime, it seems difficult to persuade Pyongyang to change its mind.
The only hope hinges on China, as it is the single country that has substantial means to pressure its “blood ally” to halt such a provocative action.
In a rare move Monday, Hong Lei, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, urged Pyongyang to exercise prudence for the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula. China underscored that Pyongyang’s all rocket launches based on ballistic missile technologies constitute a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874, while recognizing that the North retains a sovereign right to explore space for peaceful purposes.
Still, we are doubtful if Beijing really is doing its best to dissuade Pyongyang from conducting a long-range missile test again. China says it has limitations in persuading Pyongyang to stay away from nuclear ambitions. But we wonder if Pyongyang would continue to play with fire if China was seriously attempting to curb it.
The international community has begun to discuss even stricter sanctions against the North if it opts to push ahead with the launch. It was reported that Western nations are reconsidering a type of Banco Delta Asia-style financial sanctions they imposed on North Korea in 2005 when they froze all North Korean assets deposited in the bank in Macau, the only place for Pyongyang’s foreign exchange transactions. The international community is also considering effective ways to cut the money flow by identifying all North Korean bank accounts opened in a third party’s name. If the sanctions are difficult to impose due to China’s opposition, they are considering ways for individual countries to put sanctions on the North.
China does not want the fledgling Kim Jong-un regime to be unstable. The best way is to thwart Pyongyang’s provocation in advance. The international community is closely watching what kind of choice China will make under the new leadership of Xi Jinping. The North’s long-range missile launch will be the first test of his diplomatic abilities.