Wednesday, June 28, 2006

China Signals North Korea Could Launch Missile

Again, China disappoints.

Beijing is signaling Washington that North Korea could be close to test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching parts of the United States.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said Wednesday that China was paying close attention to reports that North Korea may be preparing a launch. Wen urged the reclusive Stalinist state to avoid any actions that would aggravate regional tensions and further derail long-stalled negotiations on its nuclear development programs.

"We hope that the various parties will proceed from the greater interest of maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula and refrain from taking measures that will worsen the situation," the premier told reporters.

Wen's remarks represented the first public expressions of concern by China's Communist Party rulers about a possible missile launch in the two weeks since intelligence reports detected North Korean preparations.

North Korean missiles are based on Chinese technology; and China is North Korea's closest ally and a critical provider of fuel and other forms of economic assistance.

Though some Chinese policymakers reportedly view Kim as a dangerous liability, the prevailing Chinese view seems to be that North Korea is still an important buffer between China and the US and its South Korean ally (though South Korea is increasingly inclined to appease the North). China also wants to avoid a collapse of the North because it would send thousands of refugees across the border into China.

A North Korean missile launch would complicate efforts to restart negotiations on ending the regime's nuclear weapons programs. Pyongyang has refused to return to talks with the US, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

There are likely to be clues indicating a launch is imminent. The framework supporting the missile would first be removed, for example, allowing the missile to stand on its own.

There could also be other signals, such as an increase in radio traffic from a North Korean ship monitoring the launch.

The suspect ICBM is a Taepodong-2 multi-stage rocket that sheds empty sections as fuel is depleted. It is designed to exit the atmosphere quickly before descending in a gradual curve back to earth.

The launch would be Pyongyang's first firing of a Taepondong missile since 1998, when it launched one that flew over Japan before dropping in the Pacific.

North Korea boasts that it has developed nuclear weapons; and American analysts say Pyongyang has produced a small but growing atomic arsenal, including, possibly, nuclear warheads for its ICBMs.

A failed state, North Korea developed its nuclear and missile programs while starving its people. According to the most conservative estimates, at least a million people have died as a result of Kim's policies. Untold numbers have also been killed, starved and tortured to death in North Korean concentration camps called "control zones." Atrocities reminiscent of Auschwitz are commonplace, including public executions, baby killings, gruesome medical experiments--and gas chambers.

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