North Korea moves at least one long-range missile for possible launch

South’s foreign minister says he is working with China and Russia to rein in Pyongyang

People take part in an oath-taking meeting before the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang yesterday. Photograph: Reuters

People take part in an oath-taking meeting before the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang yesterday. Photograph: Reuters


South Korea has asked China, North Korea’s only major ally, to muzzle its ideological ally and has raised its surveillance after the North moved at least one long-range missile in readiness for a possible launch.

At the same time, Chinese authorities in the northeastern city of Dandong have told tour agencies to halt tourism into North Korea, as Pyongyang whips up war rhetoric following weeks of tension on the Korean peninsula.

So far this week, the North has threatened a nuclear strike on the United States – something it is not technically capable of – and declared war on South Korea. It has also told foreigners in South Korea to leave the country to avoid being dragged into a “thermonuclear war”. It previously warned diplomats in Pyongyang to prepare to leave.

Diplomatic channels
South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-se told parliament in Seoul that he was working through diplomatic channels to rein in Pyongyang.

“Through close co-ordination with China and Russia, the Korean government has been continuing to make efforts to persuade North Korea to change its attitude,” Mr Yun said.

North Korea has threatened to use nuclear weapons against the US and South Korea, and said it would restart a nuclear reactor in response to what it perceives as a threat from the US and its close ally in the South. The speculation is that any action taken would take the form of a missile launch or a fresh nuclear weapons test.

So far, there are still no signs of increased mobilisation of North Korea’s 1.2 million-strong army, although the North has moved a medium-range missile to the east coast, and intelligence sources in Seoul said it was believed to be ready for launch.

China is North Korea’s sole major ally, although it backed recent United Nations resolutions against Pyongyang, and Moscow was a supporter of North Korea as the USSR.

“China is not just a passive receptacle for external issues. We are an active builder of an environment. But on the North Korea issue, China has made a huge diplomatic effort and tried our best to stop the situation getting worse,” said Dong Xiangrong, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“On the whole, we are still a long way from achieving our goal. Unless something of major importance happens, it will be difficult for China to change its current policy towards North Korea, which is no war, no crash and no nuclear weapons,” said Mr Dong.

‘Out of control’
Zhang Lianmei, a professor at the Central Communist Party School, said he believed there was a possibility that North Korea would start a war.

“The situation on the Korean Peninsula is going out of control. Even though China’s attitude is very severe, China has no ability to stop the clash between the two parties who are against each other,” said Mr Zhang. “Therefore, unfortunately the related parties might not listen to China’s beautiful wishes and responsible advice. They will move forward according to their fixed policies.”

In the US, Admiral Samuel Locklear, the commander of US forces in the Pacific region, said the US military believed North Korea had moved an unspecified number of Musudan missiles to its east coast.

The Combined Forces Command in Seoul raised its “Watchcon 3” status by one level, the South Korean agency Yonhap reported.

“There are clear signs that the North could simultaneously fire off Musudan, Scud and Nodong missiles,” the agency quoted a source saying.