North Korea failed to launch two missiles on Thursday, according to reports. Reuters:
Thursday’s tests looked to have been hurried, according to a defense expert in Seoul, and follow a failed launch of a similar missile earlier this month.
The first launch, at about 6:40 a.m. local time (2140 GMT Wednesday) from near the east coast city of Wonsan, appeared to have been of a Musudan missile with a range of more than 3,000 km (1,800 miles) which crashed within seconds, the South Korean defense ministry official said.
Later, at around 7:26 p.m., the North shot a similar intermediate range missile from the same area, but the launch was also understood to have failed, the official added.
Lack of success notwithstanding, the efforts still managed to raise tensions in a region that was already on edge as a result of North Korea’s increased belligerence over the past few months. Japan and South Korea have been calling on Beijing to step up the pressure on Pyongyang. In response. China agreed to tough UN sanctions on North Korea—although it is unclear whether the Chinese government is meeting its obligations under the agreement.
North Korea’s behavior puts China in a bind—stand by its ally or address the fears of more powerful neighbors. President Xi Jinping sought to walk a fine line on Thursday morning at a meeting of Asian foreign ministers:
“As a close neighbor of the peninsula, we will absolutely not permit war or chaos on the peninsula. This situation would not benefit anyone,” Xi said in a speech to a Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.
In policy terms, it remains to be seen what that means. For now, it doesn’t look like China is changing its stance all that much. Which means that if North Korea conducts another nuclear test as is expected, South Korea and Japan will hug each other tighter, look to Washington for support, and become even more distrusting of Beijing.