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South Korea, Allies Condemn North Korean Rocket Launch


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. The world is trying to figure out what to do next after North Korea launched a long-range rocket, defying international rules. It comes just weeks after the reclusive nation conducted what was believed to be its fourth nuclear test. NPR's Seoul correspondent, Elise Hu, joins us now on the line to talk about this. Elise, thanks for being with us.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Happy to be here.

MARTIN: North Korea is claiming that it launched a satellite into orbit, but it was apparently a rocket. Tell us what you know.

HU: That's right. In fact, South Korea just announced a few hours ago that it found a piece of the rocket in the Yellow Sea just south of the peninsula. North Korea conducted its launch Saturday morning local time, and state media calls it a complete success. It claims it's just a peaceful launch of a satellite for space exploration purposes, but the U.S. and its allies consider the move to have much more dangerous implications. They say it's a cover, essentially, for a ballistic missile test, which is banned. So neighbors South Korea and Japan have repeatedly warned the North not to go forward, so has China. In fact, a Chinese diplomat went to Pyongyang just last week trying to persuade North Korea to stop its launch. That was unsuccessful, of course. So the international condemnations have come swiftly in response, as you can imagine, Rachel.

MARTIN: Obviously, something that's not going to sit well with South Korea, as you mentioned, other neighboring countries or the U.S., which has been trying to get North Korea to unwind its nuclear program. So what has been the response besides just international condemnation? Has there been any specific retaliation?

HU: Well, Japan and South Korea immediately called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, on which the U.S. sits. We should mention that the Security Council has yet to pass a resolution condemning North Korea for its January nuclear test, which it claims was a hydrogen bomb, but scientists really doubt that. But that January test was also a slap in the face to the international community, and still no action.

MARTIN: Why not? What's the holdup?

HU: Well, mainly it's disagreement between the U.S. and North Korea's longtime ally, China. The U.S. and China are at loggerheads over how stringent any potential new sanctions on North Korea should be. China's position has been that talks should resume with both North Korea and the U.S. at the table.

MARTIN: So can the U.S. and South Korea, other allies, do anything without China, though?

HU: They can, but it's going to be as effective because China is North Korea's economic lifeline, as you know, and its diplomatic protector on the Security Council. China isn't likely to stop trade with the North or stop supplying it with oil. South Korea and the U.S., after these - this rocket went up, they're now going to talk about putting up a missile-defense system acronymed THAD on the Korean Peninsula. China has been opposing that because it would be close to its backyard, and so it sees that as a threat to its interests.

MARTIN: Elise, even if the U.N. passes yet another resolution against North Korea, what's the likelihood it will change anything? I mean, it hasn't demonstrated that that is an effective way to get North Korea to change his behavior before.

HU: You're right. That's actually the big question being posed to the U.S., Japan and other allies that are most concerned about the nuclear tests by North Korea so far. Leaders from those countries keep calling for a reaction that's different or not the usual response, but they haven't landed on it yet. So all the while, North Korea has had time to incrementally improve its nuclear capabilities.

MARTIN: Elise Hu is NPR's Seoul correspondent. Thanks so much for talking with us, Elise.

HU: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.