BEIJING: China yesterday resisted US-led pressure to bring its ally North Korea to heel for launching a long-range rocket, arguing that any response from the United Nations should be “prudent” and measured.
The United States demanded further action from China -- Pyongyang’s foremost patron -- and US allies pressed for stronger sanctions, after the UN Security Council condemned North Korea for carrying out Wednesday’s banned launch.
But foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters that China believes any UN response “should be prudent, appropriate and conducive to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and avoid the escalation of the situation”.
North Korea says it placed a satellite in orbit for peaceful research, but critics say the launch amounted to a banned ballistic missile test that marked a major advance for the communist state’s nuclear weapons programme.
The spokesman reaffirmed that China “regrets” the rocket launch, avoiding much stronger language of condemnation used by the United States, South Korea and Japan among others.
In South Korea, foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-Young said that North Korea “must pay the price” for its actions as he called for a new round of sanctions.
China is considered to have the most influence over North Korea and US officials are scrutinising its policy for any hints of change as Communist Party chief Xi Jinping gradually takes the reins of power.
But Chinese state media downplayed the need for stepped-up sanctions and said that in any case, China has limited influence over Pyongyang.
“The real problem is China’s strength is not sufficient to influence its neighbour’s situation,” the Global Times daily said in an editorial titled “NK move shows China’s lack of leverage”.
A bellicose Western reaction risked driving North Korea into a corner with potentially devastating results, the state editorials said.
“That is why China should not take a cooperative stance with the US, Japan and South Korea in imposing sanctions on North Korea,” the Global Times reported.