December 12, 2012 6:07 pm

Pyongyang’s threat

US and China can do more to rein in North Korea

This week the world became a more dangerous place. North Korea’s successful launch of a long-range rocket brings closer the possibility that the rogue nuclear state could one day hit targets as far away as the US. The threat is not yet nuclear because the technology is not sophisticated enough. But the intention is clear.

The launch – dressed up as an attempt to send a civil satellite into space – should dash any hopes that Kim Jong-eun, the country’s new Swiss-educated leader, is more open to international engagement than his father. Instead he seems bent on reinforcing Kim Jong-il’s nuclear ambitions to bolster his own hold on power.

Recently the world has been preoccupied by Iran’s nuclear programme. Yet North Korea is more worrying. It has several nuclear bombs and uranium enrichment facilities. It is also more advanced than Tehran in developing ballistic missiles. Given the Kim dynasty’s habit of selling expertise to any and all comers, it may now only be a matter of time before this is transferred to Iran and beyond.

After the events of this week, the international community can no longer dismiss Pyongyang’s muscle-flexing as mere bluff. It may be years before North Korea develops nuclear-armed missiles. But this rocket launch cannot pass without consequence, as did the failed attempt last April. North Korea is already one of the world’s most heavily sanctioned countries. Yet more can be done by the US and its allies to block the offshore financing channels that contribute to arms programmes.

China should also use its economic leverage to divert North Korea from its destructive path. The robust language used after this week’s rocket is a welcome sign that Beijing’s normally reticent stance might be changing. Yet Xi Jinping, China’s new leader, should make clear that the repercussions could go further. As the country’s main source of food, fuel and investment, China has propped up a regime whose policies have led to rising rates of starvation and hunger over the past 20 years. No population will tolerate indefinitely a leader who cannot feed his people. If he persists, Mr Kim should be reminded that he might be the first victim of his own dangerous ambitions.

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