China backs North Korea despite rocket launch


UNDERLINING HOW relations between their countries are “as close as lips and teeth”, Chinese president Hu Jintao firmly backed North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un despite international condemnation of a failed rocket launch and a planned third nuclear test by North Korea.

“The friendship between China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was created and fostered by older generations of leaders and has become a common wealth of both countries,” Mr Hu was quoted as saying by the Xinhua news agency.

“China will as always work with DPRK comrades to maintain high-level contact and exchanges between the political parties, promote practical co-operation and good neighbourly friendship and strengthen communication and co-ordination on major regional and international issues.”

Mr Hu’s comments came during a meeting with Kim Yong-il, the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) director of international affairs, in Beijing.

Kim Jong-un took the reins of the isolated state after the death in December of his father, longtime supreme leader Kim Jong-Il. He is the third Kim in the only ruling communist dynasty.

China was North Korea’s ally in the 1950-53 Korean War against the US and South Korea, and has supported the country over the years, especially since aid from the Soviet Union collapsed.

Food and fuel aid from China is believed to be propping up the impoverished country. It is in China’s strategic interest that there is no regime change there as it acts as a buffer zone between China and South Korea, which has US troops and supports Washington.

Last month, US president Barack Obama was sharply critical of China’s inactivity on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, and called on China to increase its efforts to stop “rewarding bad behaviour” by its close ally.

The report made no mention of the rocket launch or a dispute over North Korea’s nuclear programme.

China is said to have been irked by the way North Korea went ahead with previous tests despite Beijing’s call for restraint. However, Mr Hu did say “the two sides will make unremitting efforts to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, realise long-term security of northeast Asia, and promote common development”.

China has traditionally defended North Korea against calls for harsher sanctions over its nuclear programme. However, it did back a UN Security Council statement condemning North Korea’s failed rocket launch this month and warning it of consequences if, as planned, it carries out a third nuclear test.

Subsequently, there have also been allegations that China supplied North Korea with a missile launcher for the programme despite strict UN sanctions.

While Pyongyang said the failed launch was meant to dispatch a satellite, many other countries believe it is trying to develop the capability to make a ballistic missile that could hit continental US.

Satellite images show Pyongyang appears to be going ahead with its plans for another nuclear explosion at a site where it has previously held tests.

Kim Jong-un responded on North Korea’s KCNA agency saying: “It is the steadfast stand of our party and government to invariably develop the traditional DPRK-China friendship provided and cultivated by the leaders of elder generations of the two countries.”