The U.N. Security Council has unanimously condemned North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launch, calling it a "grave violation" of its international obligations. The strong denunciation was backed by China, North Korea's main ally.
The 15-member council said late Friday in a statement drafted by the United States that it would "continue to closely monitor the situation and take further significant measures." The statement did not say what those measures might be.
The statement blasted North Korea for its diversion of resources "to the pursuit of ballistic missiles" while North Korea's citizens "have great unmet needs."
The statement was approved after several rounds of negotiations with China, which has not agreed to previous drafts, expressing concern of an increase in tensions in the region.
North Korea's latest ballistic missile launch Tuesday was fired from a submarine. The missile flew toward Japan. It was North Korea's first successful launch from a submarine and the most recent in a string of such tests and launches over the past few months in defiance of U.N. resolutions.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the the missile launch was an "unforgivable, reckless act" that threatened Japanese security.
Jon Min Dok, an official with the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Saturday "The U.S. and its allies have called our test-firing a violation of (U.N.) resolutions and brought it up to the U.N. Security Council for discussion. This is really a terrible provocation, it's like the guilty accusing the innocent."
He went on to say, "The best way for the U.S. to escape a deadly strike from us is by refraining from insulting our dignity and threatening our security . . . ."
The United States and Japan requested an emergency meeting of the Security Council Wednesday. Afterward, council President Ramlan bin Ibrahim of Malaysia said there was a “general sense of condemnation by most members,” but that there would be discussions about how to phrase a statement to reporters.
“This is the fourth time that an incident has occurred in recent times, and up until this point on [these] last four, something has not been agreed” to by the council, Britain’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Peter Wilson told reporters Thursday. “We want to see a press statement agreed.”
The main obstacle to council consensus has been China. Traditionally Pyongyang’s closest and most powerful ally, Beijing did express its frustration in March, supporting a new round of the toughest international sanctions on North Korea to date.
Since then, Pyongyang has launched more than a half-dozen missiles in defiance of the international community.
Charles Armstrong, Korean studies professor at Columbia University in New York, said the uptick in launches is due to the adoption of “[Resolution] 2270, then the THAAD deployment and then, generally, the North Koreans showing they can get away with it.”
THAAD, or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, is the advanced U.S. anti-missile system that is soon to be deployed in South Korea to defend against North Korean missile threats. It has both Pyongyang and Beijing on edge.
Armstrong said on a recent visit to the Chinese capital that he heard a lot of anti-THAAD talk from government officials and in the official media.
“The Chinese were completely obsessed with this,” he noted. “They really see THAAD as not directed against North Korea, but really a threat to China.”
Bill Brown, a former U.S. official and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington, said the Chinese are overreacting to THAAD.
“I think it is probably caught up in a bad U.S.-China atmosphere. They think we have provoked them in the South China Sea; we think they are being too aggressive in the South China Sea," Brown said.
There is also the issue of the annual joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises involving thousands of air, ground, naval and special operations forces, further irritating the Chinese and North Koreans.
All of these factors have affected U.S.-Chinese cooperation on North Korea in the U.N. Security Council.
Brown said that it is a “delicate game” because the more noise the U.S. makes about the missile launches, the more some Chinese officials might think it's in their interest to let Pyongyang antagonize the Americans.
He said Washington also tends to blame Beijing for sanctions failures and hope they will toughen their implementation of them — an unlikely prospect.
“China has different goals with respect to North Korea, some of which coincide with ours, but many of which do not," Brown said.
But in the end, a loud Security Council condemnation is unlikely to change the situation in either direction.
“It is really about the enforcement of sanctions already on the books and whether that will move the situation in a positive direction,” Armstrong said.