Though North Korean media celebrated the event as an example of its peaceful use of space, the US condemned it as a violation of previous UN resolutions that ban North Korea from staging “any launch using ballistic missile technology.”
“The international community must work in a concerted fashion to send North Korea a clear message that its violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions have consequences,” the White House said in a statement.
Beijing, however, was more restrained. Mr. Hong said that his government “expressed regret” and noted that North Korea is “obliged to abide by the relevant (UN) resolutions.” But he refused to answer a reporter’s question as to whether Beijing regarded the launch as a violation of UN resolutions.
The UN imposed two sets of sanctions on North Korea, in 2006 and 2009, banning the sale of heavy military equipment, dual use items, and luxury goods, imposing financial sanctions on individual leaders and North Korean institutions, and allowing states to stop and search North Korean vessels believed to be violating sanctions.
China went along with these resolutions, but only because they were imposed as a response to nuclear tests, says Prof. Cai. “Beijing is more tolerant of missile tests, because the missiles have not yet been put to military use,” he adds.
“China cannot do much at the moment because, although it opposes North Korea’s challenges, it is more concerned with the country’s domestic political stability,” Cai believes. Beijing sees North Korea as a strategic counterweight to US-backed South Korea, “so it wants the current government in Pyongyang to survive.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who took over from his father last December, is young and leads a government that has recently shown signs of divisions. “There are still a lot of risks and uncertainties,” says Cai. “If the international community applies too much pressure, the regime might collapse.”