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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 30)

All News 09:42 January 30, 2016

NK's missile threat

Signs are mounting that North Korea is preparing to launch a long-range missile, following its fourth nuclear test earlier this month.

Kyodo News Agency reported that satellite imagery showed that the reclusive state may be readying to fire a ballistic missile from its northwestern Dongchang-ri launch site. The Ministry of National Defense declined to neither confirm nor deny the report, but just said it was monitoring the site for any signs of a launch.

It would be hardly surprising if Pyongyang launched a missile abruptly, given its surprise nuclear test on Jan. 6, which was conducted without any advance warning, even to its longtime ally China.

Kyodo said the launch could occur within a week, but it's hard to forecast the timing, considering that North Korea has yet to declare a no-sail zone.

The launch would be in direct violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and pose a grave threat to peace and stability in Northeast Asia. It's like adding fuel to the fire at a time when military tensions have flared up after the nuclear test.

U.S. Department of Defense spokesman Bill Urban urged the North to immediately stop actions and rhetoric that could disturb peace and security in the region.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman called for Pyongyang to exercise restraint, saying, ''It should not take radical steps, and should avoid causing a vicious cycle of tension.'' Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe convened a National Security Council meeting to assess the current situation and coordinate responses.

But it's doubtful if these moves will discourage the impoverished state from firing a missile, which might be disguised as a space rocket. More than 20 days have passed since the North's nuclear test, but the Security Council has yet to adopt any effective sanctions. It also might have emboldened Pyongyang that China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi only emphasized dialogue in resolving the North's nuclear issue during his talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Wednesday.

Pyongyang might take this as a signal that it will be okay to fire a long-range missile. But that would be a miscalculation. There is no question that it will result in branding the North as an unpredictable and uncompromising rogue state, isolated from the international community for good.

What is certain is that our diplomacy is in a total mess. President Park Geun-hye and her diplomatic aides have labored to curry favor with Beijing despite Washington's displeasure, but the outcome is what we see now ― China's continuous siding with North Korea.

It's evident that Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs will be completed while the two superpowers are shifting the responsibility to each other. And Seoul will suffer the most from this nightmarish scenario.

In the short term, our government must focus on deterring the North's missile provocation by strengthening cooperation with the U.S., China and Japan. From the long-term perspective, however, it will be critical to craft our diplomatic strategies from square one.

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