China defies U.S. sanctions pressure over N. Korea
WASHINGTON, USA (UPDATED) - China 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.
Hong said China "regrets" the rocket launch, but his response fell far short of the much stronger language of condemnation used by the United States, South Korea and Japan, among others.
On Thursday, December 13, the US said it was working hard with China to persuade it to back a strong response to North Korea, and denied it had been caught off guard by the rocket launch.
"We are working with both our 6 party partners and with our UN Security Council partners -- China is in both of those categories -- on a clear and credible response to what the North Koreans have done," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Washington has roundly condemned Wednesday's launch, and called on the new North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to focus on feeding the people of his isolated, impoverished state instead of developing missile technology.
But Washington has warned that Pyongyang must face consequences for violating UN resolutions by firing off its long-range rocket.
Chorus of protest
China joined a chorus of protest at emergency talks by the UN Security Council on Wednesday, but seemed to back away from the idea of imposing any more sanctions on the communist-run state.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters China believes any UN response "should be prudent, appropriate and conducive to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula."
"We are working hard with the Chinese and with our other partners to make it clear that the international community is extremely concerned about this flagrant violation of international law," Nuland said.
But she refused to predict the outcome of the UN consultations, and rejected the idea that Washington had not foreseen Wednesday's launch, after reports that the rocket had been dismantled.
"We've been working for weeks and weeks and weeks. We have been warning against this launch and we have been preparing a response if the North Koreans did," she told journalists.
She also warned North Korea against any further such actions, as Pyongyang's state media said Kim had ordered more satellite launches.
"He has a chance, as the new leader, to take his country back into the 21st century, to take it back into integration with the region and with the world. But he's making the wrong choices right now," Nuland said. - Agence France-Presse