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(2nd LD) China urges N. Korea to comply with U.N. resolutions over possible rocket launch

2015/09/15 18:29

(ATTN: ADDS context, quotes, details from para 9; RECASTS lead para)

BEIJING, Sept. 15 (Yonhap) -- In an unusually frank rebuke against its wayward ally, China called for North Korea on Tuesday to comply with U.N. resolutions that ban the North from conducting ballistic missile tests, a day after Pyongyang hinted that it could launch a long-range rocket to mark a key national anniversary.

Fanning concerns that North Korea could fire a long-range rocket to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party on or around Oct. 10, the North's space agency said Monday that it is ready to launch satellites aboard long-range rockets.

"As a sovereign state, North Korea has the rights for peaceful use of outer space, but these rights are restricted by U.N. resolutions," China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei replied, when asked about the North's possible launch of a long-range rocket. "U.N. Security Council resolutions should be followed through."

   "China hopes that the relevant party can act with caution and refrain from taking actions that may elevate tension on the Korean Peninsula and in the region," Hong said.

It was very unusual for China, North Korea's only military ally, to publicly call for the North to comply with U.N. resolutions.

Any launch will likely prompt the United States, with the support of South Korea and Japan, to seek fresh punishment for North Korea because it would be considered a disguised ballistic missile test, although Pyongyang has insisted that it has the right to put a satellite into space.

Upping the ante, North Korea confirmed on Tuesday that it has restarted operations at its main nuclear reactor, saying Pyongyang was working to advance its nuclear weapons "in quality and quantity."

   Asked about the North's claim of its nuclear advance, Hong urged "relevant parties" to do more to ensure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Satellite images of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear facility have shown activities of expanding plutonium production, but it was the first time Pyongyang has confirmed that it resumed operations of the five-megawatt reactor, which is considered as the North's main source of weapons-grade plutonium.

The surprise announcement on Tuesday by North Korea, which has conducted three nuclear tests so far, followed the North's indication of a long-range rocket launch the day before.

The back-to-back announcements came as U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are set to hold a summit later this month, when North Korea's nuclear and missile programs are sure to be put on their agenda.

Numerous diplomatic efforts to resume the six-party talks, involving South Korea, North Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, have failed to produce a tangible outcome. The six-party talks have been stalled since late 2008.

Although North Korea has shown no signs of giving up its nuclear weapons program, China again called for an early resumption of the six-party talks on Tuesday.

"We are committed to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and we are committed to maintaining peace and stability of the Peninsula," Hong said.

"China stands ready to work with relevant parties to move forward the process and ensure an early resumption of the six-party talks," Hong said.

North Korea has long been accused of using long-range rocket launches as a pretext for test-firing intercontinental ballistic missiles. Experts say long-range rockets and ICBMs are basically the same with differences only in payloads.

If North Korea goes ahead with a long-range rocket launch, it would also pour cold water on the recent conciliatory mood created between the two Koreas, including their plans to hold reunions of families separated by the Korean War.