The United States and North Korea's neighbors in Asia are weighing their response to Pyongyang's decision Wednesday to test-fire six missiles in the Pacific.
Shortly after the launches Wednesday, Japanese diplomats confirmed that Tokyo had lodged a protest against North Korea here in Beijing.
Japan, South Korea, and the United States have been very vocal for weeks in urging North Korea not to carry out the missile tests. Now the issue facing governments here and in Washington is how to respond to the isolated communist nation, which has also refused to end its nuclear weapons program.
Leonard Spector is deputy director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in the United States. He says the North intended to intimidate the United States and its allies in Asia, but the plan may have backfired after the one long-range missile it tested failed within a minute after launch.
"The actual effect is that North Korea demonstrated it could not threaten the United States directly," said Spector. "But it has been so provocative, it has been so inattentive to international concerns in Japan, China, South Korea, and elsewhere, that I believe this will stimulate an international response that is going to hurt North Korea diplomatically."
Spector and other analysts believe the United States and allies are most likely to respond diplomatically rather than resort to military action.
The U.N. Security Council meets later Wednesday to discuss the situation, amid a flurry of international consultations in the hours following the missile tests.
Washington and Tokyo have indicated they will likely pursue U.N. sanctions.
China, which has hosted six-nation negotiations to end the North Korean nuclear standoff over the past three years, is likely to be angered by the North Korean missile tests. Among the reasons is that Beijing does not want Pyongyang to provoke China's historic enemy, Japan, into building up its military in the face of a North Korean missile threat.
However, many analysts doubt Beijing will publicly condemn North Korea, which it still sees as a traditional ideological ally. "The Chinese are always a little bit cautious about really laying down the law with North Korea," explains politics professor Brian Bridges, an expert on Northeast Asia security matters at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. "They've tried to dissuade and cajole and encourage the North Koreans to open up and not to go down the path of developing nuclear weapons. But when it comes to a crunch, they've always avoided making a strong commitment."
As the chief suppliers of food and fuel to the impoverished Stalinist nation, the Chinese theoretically have some leverage over Pyongyang.
However, China does not want to alienate North Korea or see its regime collapse, something Beijing fears would result in a flood of North Korean refugees and the emergence of a unified Korea - allied to the United States - on its border.