In what could be a turning point in China’s foreign policy toward North Korea, Beijing may be ready to support an increase in economic pressure against the isolated state to end ballistic missile and nuclear bomb testing.
The People's Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK) on Sunday launched a ballistic missile just hours before China was to begin its most important global diplomatic event. The Chinese Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, in Beijing, was attended by top world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pyongyang's ill-timed move has sparked renewed world anger at the country's refusal to end its militaristic moves.
Analysts observing the incident noted that Beijing may now be ready to support Washington's call for the UN Security Council to implement new sanctions on the DPRK as a means to end what the West condemns as aggression.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, while noting that Pyongyang is being routinely intimidated, nonetheless referred to the launch as "dangerous."
Following an urgent request by Japan and the United States, the United Nations Security Council will gather an emergency session on Tuesday to craft a response to the most recent DPRK ballistic missile test.
Foreign policy experts consider Sunday's missile launch a turning point, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Professor Su Hao, of China Foreign Affairs University, remarked that Pyongyang would "be held accountable and pay the price" for acting against UN security resolutions.
"This could also be an opportunity for China to show that it can initiate some plausible plans to handle the North Korean issue within the framework of the international community," he added, cited by SCMP.
Other ways that have been floated as a means to get Pyongyang to come to the bargaining table include Beijing offering DPRK leader Kim Jong-un asylum, or cutting off North Korea's primary power source: Chinese oil.
"But this would be the last measure China would want to ever use because the Chinese leaders fear the consequences would be too big to control, " said Lee Dong-ryul, of South Korea's Dongduk Women's University.
In February, Beijing stopped importing North Korean coal.
Days after South Korea elected a new president who might be favorable to better diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, North Korea launched a medium-range ballistic missile that might accommodate a large nuclear warhead into the Sea of Japan.
“North Korea’s latest successful missile test represents a level of performance never seen before from a North Korean missile,” aerospace engineer John Schilling wrote on 38 North, a website dedicated to North Korea security topics. Despite Hwasong-12’s classification as a medium-range missile, it could have allowed North Korea to test subsystems of ICMBs.
US President Donald Trump’s frequent declarations about “solving” the North Korean “problem” may have forced Pyongyang’s hand into accelerating ICBM development. “The possible testing of ICBM subsystems in this low-key manner may be a North Korean hedge” against the prospect of escalation with US forces, Schilling said.
It could represent significant progress toward the nation’s goal of reaching greater ICBM capabilities, according to various experts. The most recent test was “not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile,” US Pacific Command said in a statement. But David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists estimated the projectile’s range to be 2,800 miles.
The “Korean-style” missile was “capable of carrying a large, heavy nuclear warhead,” North Korean state-media outlet KCNA reported. Based on the missile’s altitude and flight time, the DPRK may have launched a “new type of missile,” Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said.
The missile originated in Kusong, North Korea, before flying roughly 490 miles, where it landed in the Sea of Japan, just 60 miles from Vladivostok, Russia.
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