China on Friday expressed unusually strong disapproval of its ally North Korea's plan to launch what it says is a satellite to mark the 100th anniversary of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung next month.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun called in North Korean Ambassador Ji Jae-ryong on Friday night and expressed his concerns, according to the ministry Saturday. It is the first time in the year and three months since the North shelled South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island that the Chinese government has called in Ji.
Zhang reportedly said China is closely looking at North Korea's plans and the international community's reaction, and that the peace and stability in Northeast Asia are "the shared responsibility of the countries involved." He added China truly hopes to improve the current situation.
Experts see that is the strongest rebuke from China since the North's second nuclear test in 2009.
China apparently does not accept North Korea's claim that it is launching a satellite for scientific purposes. When North Korea unveiled its uranium enrichment program to the U.S. at the end of 2010, the Chinese Foreign Ministry backed North Korea, saying it has the right to use civilian nuclear power, but there was no such support for what is widely believed to be a test run for a long-range missile under the guise of a satellite launch.
The fact that North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, who represents the North in six-party nuclear talks, is still in Beijing suggests that North Korea is concerned about China's strong opposition. Ri was originally scheduled to return to North Korea from Beijing on Saturday after concluding visits to the U.S. and Russia.
On Monday he will reportedly meet with Wu Dawei, China's special representative for Korean affairs, to hear Beijing's position on the rocket launch, and return to North Korea on Tuesday.