North Korea’s Failed Rocket Launch Draws Reactions from Asian Powers

North Korea’s Failed Rocket Launch Draws Reactions from Asian Powers

Earlier this month, North Korea announced with much fanfare its plans to fire a rocket into space, only to fail abysmally on the day of the launch. This post examines the domestic commentary from major Asian powers on what this says about the North Korean regime, and implications for Northeast Asian security more broadly.

SOUTH KOREA

In South Korea, officials condemned Pyongyang’s actions, while commentators speculated on whether North Korea might be more likely to conduct a new nuclear test following its rocket launch failure.

In the days following the failed launch, Seoul and Pyongyang exchanged volleys of unusually strong threats.

  • Cho Min, a senior analyst at Seoul’s state-funded Korea Institute for National Unification, stated, “The failed rocket launch has drastically undermined the North’s negotiating power with the U.S.and made it concerned over internal relaxation of its regime due to doubts over its young leader.”
  • An editorial in the Hankyoreh Sinmun added that North Korea “needs to understand that itsemotional response in no way helps the stability of its regime or the development of inter-Korean relations. We hope North and South alike exercise restraint so that the war of words does not escalate into a physical clash.”

Multiple editorials stressed the increasingly narrow set of options North Korea faces as a consequence of its actions:

CHINA

The official People’s Daily sounded a routine call to resume the Six-Party Talks. Other media outlets reprimanded North Korea’s behavior, while also using the opportunity to criticize the U.S. and its allies.

  • In an editorial with the admonition, “Pyongyang must remember to heed China’s advice,” theGlobal Times noted that China’s official condemnation of the rocket launch was “the first time that China had openly taken a tough attitude toward Pyongyang since the new leadership came into power.” In another editorial, the paper placed the burden of reducing future tensions on the US, Japan and South Korea: “It is these three powers that are pivotal to changing North Korea’s way of behaving.”
  • The website China.org.cn, sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ran an editorial concluding that Japan was the “real beneficiary” of these developments on the Korean Peninsula, because “the acute response by Japan…is another excuse for it to strengthen its military forces.”

Analysis by Cheng Xiaohe, professor at Renmin University, noted that China’s open disapproval was markedly different from its acquiescence of North Korea’s satellite launch in 2009. Cheng explained, “That China applies rare public pressure on North Korea is based, above all, on its own interests. Later this year, China will see a change in leadership, and does not need anything, domestic or external, to make things more complicated.”

INDIA

Indian commentary on North Korea’s failed rocket launch was made a week later, in the context of India’s own successful test launch of its Agni V, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to Beijing.

A sense of pride in both the missile test’s success as well as India’s international stature was evident in newspapers that normally span the political spectrum. Analysts pointed out that while North Korea was chided for its behavior, India’s test did not draw any criticism from the US.

  • An op-ed in the Times of India called the missile test “a source of pride and strategic comfort for India.” The writers pointed out that this “will strengthen nuclear deterrence and strategic stability in Asia,” and that diplomatically it is “a symbol of India’s changed place in the world.”

JAPAN

In Japan, multiple editorials called on China to “act responsibly” to restrain Pyongyang’s behavior. The Japanese government came under fire for its perceived slow response in confirming the launch and alerting the public.

  • Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimara condemned the launch, noting that, “Even if it was a failure, it is a grave provocation to our country and other countries concerned and violates UN Security Council resolutions.” Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda ordered his government to continue collecting information as a matter of urgency. “(I will) do everything I can to provide information to the public and strengthen cooperation with other countries.”
  • A commentary in Japan Today predicted that North Korea’s failure may push the hermit state into testing a nuclear bomb in an attempt to save face. “The humiliation of the rocket failure will be keenly felt by new leader Kim Jong Un,” said Toshimitsu Shigemura, North Korea expert and professor at Waseda University in Tokyo. “…Rumors will start that the new leader has failed to impress and is no good…the leadership will have to take measures to make up for that.”

RUSSIA

Russia took a stance similar to China following the launch, calling for moderation and balance, keeping the goal of restarting the Six-Party Talks in mind. “We don’t believe in further sanctions; they will bring nothing in terms of resolving the situation,” stated Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

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