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Tensions Rise Again
The Korean Peninsula can only find peace through negotiations
By Su Xiaohui | NO. 8 FEBRUARY 25, 2016

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) announced on February 7 the successful launch of Kwangmyongsong-4 , an earth observation satellite, into space.

Two days later, the Ministry of National Defense of the Republic of Korea (ROK) confirmed the satellite launched by its northern neighbor had been put into orbit.

The satellite launch came a month after Pyongyang claimed its first successful hydrogen bomb test on January 6, It was the country's fourth nuclear test. These two acts by the DPRK, which are in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, have astounded the international community.

Controversial launch 

Under international law, every country has the right to explore and use outer space for peaceful purposes. In 2015, Russia completed 23 space launches and the United States 18. China conducted 19 space missions last year, sending 45 satellites into orbit, with a success rate of 100 percent.

Pyongyang insists its recent rocket launch be part of a peaceful space program. However, it has drawn strong criticism from neighboring countries and has continually given rise to concerns in the international community.

In a government statement, the ROK said that the DPRK's act was a long-range rocket launch. The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that the United States strongly condemns the "missile launch." Kerry stressed that the launch was "a flagrant violation of UN Security Council Resolutions related to North Korea's use of ballistic missile technology." The Japanese Government claimed that the rocket launch threatened Japan and its neighboring countries' national security. Meanwhile, Russia also expressed its protest against the DPRK's "missile launch."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon denounced the launch in a statement issued by his spokesman Stephan Dujarric.

"The secretary general reiterates his call on the DPRK to halt its provocative actions and return to compliance with its international obligations," Dujarric said at the UN headquarters in New York City on February 6.

China has been relatively impartial. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular media conference on February 15 that both the nuclear test and the satellite launch by the DPRK violate relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council.

"China proposes that the UN Security Council adopt a new resolution and take further steps to make the DPRK pay the necessary price and bear the consequences for its behavior," Hong said.

"On the other hand, sanctions are not the end. Our goal is to pull all parties back to the negotiating table, as negotiations are the only way to solve the issue," Hong said.

The use of long-range missile technology is the reason why the DPRK's satellite launch has been widely condemned. While the DPRK has stressed its peaceful purpose, the rocket used for the launch suggests that the DPRK have the capability to launch ballistic missiles.

The launch of Kwangmyongsong-1 , 2  and 3  satellites in 1998, 2009 and 2012 respectively, prompted the UN Security Council to issue resolutions 1695 and 2087 condemning the launches and demanding the DPRK not to proceed with any further launches using ballistic missile technology. The UN Security Council also imposed sanctions in a bid to prevent the DPRK from obtaining technology and material for ballistic missile development.

Vehicles carrying workers from the Republic of Korea (ROK) from the Kaesong Industrial Zone (KIZ) pass the customs, immigration and quarantine office in Paju of the ROK on February 11, after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea announced to expel all ROK citizens from the KIZ and close the jointly-run complex (XINHUA/NEWSIS)

Renewed tensions 

The Korean Peninsula now faces a new round of elevated tensions. Historically, whenever the DPRK conducted a rocket launch or nuclear test, it would trigger a heated war of words with the ROK and action by the UN Security Council.

In 2012, in response to the launch of Kwangmyongsong-3 , the Security Council promptly approved a resolution over the launch. The DPRK registered a strong protest. In February 2013, after the DPRK's third nuclear test, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2094 (2013) and imposed tougher-than-ever sanctions. As a result, tensions between the DPRK and the United States, and its allies--the ROK and Japan, were heightened. After two years of relative stability, the situation in the Korean Peninsula has taken a turn for the worse because of the hydrogen bomb test and satellite launch by the DPRK.

Furthermore, the tensions might spill beyond the peninsula. The United States has been seeking the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in the ROK to protect U.S. troops and bases in the country against possible nuclear and missile attacks by the DPRK. The ROK has been reluctant to sanction the system's deployment. But the recent satellite launch and nuclear test have provided the United States with a strong case to implement such a plan.

China and Russia have repeatedly expressed their concerns over the possible deployment of THAAD. The THAAD missile defense system, especially the monitoring scope of its X-Band radar, goes far beyond the defense requirements of the Korean Peninsula and poses a threat to the national security of other countries in the region. Following the renewed tensions, the ROK has declared its intention to resume talks with the United States on the deployment of THAAD. China's Foreign Ministry promptly called a meeting with the ROK's ambassador to China and clarified China's stance on the issue. China has also voiced its opposition to the possible U.S. deployment at international gatherings.

If the THAAD missile defense system is deployed in the ROK, it will affect stability in the region. "China firmly opposes any country utilizing the nuclear issue in the Korean Peninsula to jeopardize China's legitimate rights and interests," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during the Munich Security Conference held on February 12-14.

The satellite Kwangmyongsong-4  is launched by a rocket in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on February 7 (XINHUA/KCNA)

China's peace efforts 

China is fully aware of the risks posed by tensions in the Korean Peninsula. The six-party talks, in which China, ROK, DPRK, Russia, the United States and Japan participated, have been suspended since 2009, during which time the DPRK has made substantial progress in its nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The chances of resuming the talks remains slim. As a close neighbor to the Korean Peninsula, China never wishes to see conflict or war take place in the region.

In the West, many voices are criticizing China and demanding action by China to punish the DPRK. They believe that China should take full responsibility for resolving the conflicts.

China has reiterated that the key to solving the nuclear issue in the Korean Peninsula requires the help of other countries. The United States is not seen as being helpful by resorting to sanctions against the DPRK and its unwillingness to respond to appeals by the DPRK for talks has botched an opportunity to return to the negotiating table by reconvening the six-party talks.

Future stability in the peninsula depends on the course the United States and the DPRK wish to take. Only by taking actions that no longer inflame the situation will the region remain under control and offer hope of improvement.

China is committed to denuclearization and maintaining stability in the Korean Peninsula. China has been making efforts to resolve the nuclear issue under the framework of the six-party talks and seeks to address the concerns of all parties through negotiations. China views negotiations as the only right way to realize everlasting peace in the region.

The author is the deputy director of the Department for International and Strategic Studies at the China Institute of International Studies 

Copyedited by Calvin Palmer

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