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(LEAD) S. Korea, China beef up consultations on preventing possible N. Korean rocket launch

2015/09/18 19:32

(ATTN: ADDS quotes, details in paras 5-7)

BEIJING, Sept. 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and China have strengthened bilateral cooperation on preventing North Korea from launching a long-range rocket next month, Seoul's top envoy in Beijing said Friday.

North Korea's space agency said earlier this week that it would launch a series of satellites as part of its space development program. It fuels speculation that North Korea could fire a long-range rocket next month to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party.

"Consultations between South Korea and China have been stepped up to thwart North Korea's long-range rocket launch before or after the anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party," Ambassador to China Kim Jang-soo told South Korean lawmakers in Beijing during an annual parliamentary audit of the embassy.

Kim declined to give details, citing sensitive diplomatic consultations between South Korea and China.

Repeatedly asked by lawmakers about whether North Korea would go ahead with a launch of a long-range rocket, Kim said there were no signs that a launch was imminent.

However, China has informed South Korea that construction to upgrade the North's main rocket launch site has been completed, Kim said.

"The Chinese side has also estimated that construction of the launch site at the Dongchang-ri was completed," Kim told lawmakers.

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 that it has restarted operations at its main nuclear reactor to advance its nuclear weapons "in quality and quantity."

   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 the North's main source of weapons-grade plutonium.