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.
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.
- ROK Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan condemned Pyongyang’s rocket launch as a “provocative act that threatens peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia.” Hours after the launch, a defensive committee of South Korea’s National Assembly adopted a resolutiondenouncing the failed launch and warning against additional provocative acts.
- 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:
- Since Kim Jong-un’s “intentions to boast his country’s military prowess went up in smoke with the failed rocket launch…the only options left to Kim are to do something foolish like conducting another nuclear test…” argued the Chosun Ilbo.
- The Hankyoreh Sinmun took a similar stance, adding that “if North Korea doesn’t change and engages in additional provocations, we’ll have fewer and fewer choices available.”
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.”
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.
- “Unlike a North Korea or Iran, India’s purpose was not to overturn the existing international orderor blackmail its wealthier parts,” wrote the Hindustan Times in an editorial. “[India has] a larger commitment of earning a seat at the high table of power through…responsible behavior.”
- The Hindu ran an op-ed entitled “It’s a high-five moment for the Agni,” in which the author analyzed the missile capabilities of India, China and Pakistan.
- 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.”
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.”
- The Yomiuri Shimbun expressed dissatisfaction with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) presidential statement denouncing North Korea’s actions. Arguing that the presidential statement “lacks teeth,” the editorial urges China to be “aware of its own responsibility” and apply greater pressure on North Korea. Another editorial called on the UNSC to “strengthen economic sanctions to tighten an international noose around the country” while also encouraging Japan to “seek resumption of negotiations with the country, aiming at comprehensive settlement of nuclear, missile, and abduction issues.”
- 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 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.