North Korea rocket will receive only empty threats

Source:Global Times Published: 2012-12-13 19:55:04

Editor's Note:

North Korea suddenly launched a long-range rocket which successfully placed a satellite into orbit on Wednesday. It has been condemned for violating UN resolutions 1718 and 1874. Will the UN and countries like the US impose stricter sanctions on North Korea? Will North Korea's actions worsen the situation on the Korean Peninsula? Global Times reporter Shu Meng invited two scholars to talk on these topics.

Illustration: Liu Rui
Illustration: Liu Rui

Liu Jiangyong, professor of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University

North Korea's satellite launch was no big surprise. North Korea had already said that the rocket would be fired during the period from December 10 to 22. Although it also once announced that the launch would be postponed, it never said that it would cancel it altogether. It is also normal for North Korea not to have told the world in detail about the specific timing of the launch.

The satellite will have no serious impact on the international image of North Korea. It has already received sanctions for its past nuclear and missile tests. Because North Korea warned the world about this launch ahead of time, international society has been psychologically prepared for it.

Moreover, compared with the actions North Korea has taken in the past, this clearly had more transparency, since the site and timeframe were known in advance. This will mitigate its impact. 

Generally speaking, other countries' attitudes have remained calm to North Korea's launch this time. They simply condemn North Korea's actions instead of imposing hardline sanctions. The UN has issued a statement, criticizing North Korea's violation of the UN resolution after its attempted launch in April. This latest event is not much more serious. 

Moreover, major parties have their own business to consider at this time. The US is busy dealing with Syria and other affairs in the Middle East. President Barack Obama has just been reelected and has to form his new team for his second term. On December 19, South Korea will hold its presidential election. The Lee Myung-bak government will thus be in a holding pattern period until the election. Japan will also soon elect its new prime minister. The parties will not want to escalate matters. Hence the situation in the Korean Peninsula will not be largely affected.

Zheng Jiyong, scholar of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University

On Monday, the spokesman for the North's Korean Committee of Space Technology announced that North Korea would extend the satellite launch period to December 29 due to technical problems. However, only two days later, it fired the satellite and declared it had successfully entered orbit. This was a clear tactic. North Korea's attempt at another launch in April brought a lot of pressure from the international society. North Korea played a trick here so as to avoid interception and international pressure.

Although this launch will definitely be condemned by international society, North Korea believes that this incident will not change anything. Viewed from the perspective of the failed April launch, condemnation from the international community does not have any major impact on North Korea. Therefore, North Korea believes that this time international society will thunder at them while taking no real or military action.

Indeed, some countries may impose unilateral sanctions on North Korea for this incident. However, a more severe sanction imposed by the UN Security Council is unlikely. It's more likely they will issue condemnations and urge North Korea not to take such measures again.

However, this successful launch will have a big impact on South Korea because the launch of its own first space rocket, the Naro-1, has just been halted. South Korean people have long believed that North Korea's space technology is immature. But this success paints a real picture.

Both sides on the Korean Peninsula have a strong sense of national pride. Under such circumstances, will South Korea step up its research and development for satellite technology? Will there be a competition between North and South Korea? This possibility is what should give us all reason for worry.

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