BEIJING China's envoy on North Korea has expressed concern about the North's planned rocket launch, a Foreign Ministry official said on Tuesday, in China's latest bid to coax the North to abandon the launch that could stymie a U.S. aid offer.
On Monday, the Chinese envoy, Wu Dawei, met the North's vice foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, in Beijing, the second meeting between China and North Korea in five days over the North's planned rocket launch.
"The Chinese government at the earliest moment expressed our concerns and worries," Luo Zhaohui, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's Department of Asian Affairs told a news briefing, referring to the meeting between Wu and Ri.
North Korea said last Friday it would launch a satellite to mark the centenary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il-sung, next month. Foreign officials have in the past said such launches were really long-range missile tests.
North Korean ballistic missile tests are banned under U.N. resolutions.
The United States has said a launch carrying a satellite could violate the North's agreement last month to stop nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and long-range missile launches, and scuttle U.S. plans to resume food aid.
Luo said China called on "all parties to remain calm and exercise restraint, avoid an escalation of the situation ... and play constructive roles to ease the situation in the peninsula".
Luo also urged the United States and North Korea to value a recent improvement in relations, which this month brought talks in Beijing on a resumption of U.S. food aid.
"We hope North Korea and the United States continue dialogue and maintain contact, and cherish these hard-earned achievements," Luo said. "This has important significance in alleviating the situation on the peninsula and improving U.S.-North Korea relations."
The isolated North Korean government, however, showed no signs of abandoning the launch.
"The launch of the working satellite is an issue fundamentally different from that of a long-range missile," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said late on Monday.
"More than 100 space vehicles are put into the orbit around the earth by carrier rockets in a year on an average worldwide. How can the puppet and other hostile forces explain this fact?", it said, referring to the United States and its allies.
North Korea's Ri, speaking to media in Beijing, repeated the North's stance that a satellite launch was the North's sovereign right to space development, adding it intended to move ahead with the United States on the aid agreement.
"If they apply double standards towards us or try to improperly violate our rights, we have only to respond against it. I hope that such a thing would not happen," he said.
China last Saturday first expressed "worry" about the launch, in a rare public airing of pressure toward its ally.
North Korea has for years been trying to build a nuclear arsenal and the launch plan has thrown into doubt hopes that the its new leader, Kim Jong-un, would open up more to the international community.
Yet the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Monday it had received an invitation from North Korea to visit, three years after its inspectors were expelled for the second time.
The invitation appeared to be an attempt by the North to put the ball in the U.S. court over the nuclear moratorium deal the two sides reach last month, even as the North readies the rocket launch.
"The launch will take place. Nobody is really going to do anything, because there's nothing you can do. It's not like China is going support more sanctions at the U.N.," said Daniel Pinkston, an expert on North Korea with the International Crisis Group in Seoul.
Analysts say a missile test would be in line with North Korea's practise of using threats to regional security to leverage concessions, from the United States in particular.
They say it might also be intended to boost the stature of the North's new young leader, who took over the family dynasty after his father's death late last year.
"It really puts the US in an awkward position," Pinkston said of the launch. "Whichever way it breaks out for the North, they can spin this as a win for Kim Jong-un and the regime."
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Laurence in Seoul; Writing by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Robert Birsel)