North Korea launched its rocket Wednesday morning, surprising many countries throughout Asia, including its main ally China. While the move was strongly condemned by Japan and South Korea, China's reaction was more muted.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said China expresses regret at North Korea’s decision to launch the rocket despite extensive concerns in the international community. China says countries should remain calm and that while North Korea has a right to make peaceful use of outerspace, that right is subject to restriction by the United Nations. The spokesman said the U.N. Security Council’s actions should be moderate to avoid escalation of the situation.
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North Korea has said its rocket launch was aimed at placing a weather satellite into orbit. But experts believe it was an attempt by Pyongyang to master long range missile technology.
Analysts say the move also may be an attempt by North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, who came to power almost a year ago, to shore up domestic support in the impoverished country.
“China values stability overall on the Korean peninsula and understands that Kim Jong Un needs to continue to engage in these types of acts in order to shore up his own domestic legitimacy and to keep peace on the peninsula,” said Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt of the International Crisis Group in Beijing.
North Korea also attempted to launch a rocket in April but it misfired.
China is North Korea's only major political ally and its main aid provider. It is seen as one of the few nations with any influence on Pyongyang but has previously resisted calls for more pressure and stronger sanctions on North Korea.