|North Korea's plans to honour its late leader by launching a satellite have drawn international criticism [Reuters]
China has expressed concern to North Korea over its announcement of plans to send a satellite into space aboard a long-range rocket after the US warned that the launch would threaten regional stability.
Zhang Zhijun, China's vice foreign minister, voiced his concerns to Jae Ryong, North Korea's ambassador in Beijing, in a meeting on Friday, the Xinhua state news agency reported on Saturday.
Zhang stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the region, according to a foreign ministry statement.
"We sincerely hope parties concerned stay calm and exercise restraint and avoid escalation of tension that may lead to a more complicated situation," Zhang said.
China is considered a key influence on North Korea, as the largely isolated communist country's only remaining international ally. A North Korean nuclear envoy arrived in the country for talks on Saturday.
North Korea said on Friday it planned to launch a long-range rocket carrying a "working" satellite next month to mark the centenary of founder Kim Il-sung's birth.
Earlier this month Pyongyang said it had agreed to halt uranium enrichment, weapons testing and long-range missile launches in return for US food aid, paving the way for the possible resumption of international talks on disarmament.
The country is currently undergoing a period of transition since Kim Jong-un assumed power following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, last year.
But Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said the announcement was highly provocative and urged Pyongyang to honour its obligations including UN Security Council resolutions banning ballistic missile launches.
"Such a missile launch would pose a threat to regional security and would also be inconsistent with North Korea's
recent undertaking to refrain from long-range missile launches," she said in a statement.
"We urge North Korea to exercise restraint and refrain from the launch."
- Osamu Fujimura, Chief cabinet secretary in the Japanese government
South Korea, which is still technically at war with the North after signing only an armistice to end the 1950-53 Korean War, said the ballistic launch threatened regional security.
The Japanese government echoed South Korea's sentiments.
Any launch by North Korea, whether for a satellite or not, that uses ballistic missile technology violates Security Council resolutions, the Japanese government said.
"We urge North Korea to exercise restraint and refrain from the launch," said Osamu Fujimura, the top government spokesman and chief cabinet secretary.
Russia also expressed concern over the launch, but also called for "maximum restraint from all sides."
"The announcement about an upcoming launch of a satellite in the DPRK causes serious concern," the foreign ministry said in a statement, referring to North Korea by an acronym.
"We call on Pyongyang not to put itself in opposition to the international community, to refrain from actions that increase tension in the region and create additional complications for the relaunch of six-sided negotiations about the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula," it said.
North conducted a similar ballistic rocket launch in 2009 which culminated in a new round of toughened UN
sanctions, squeezing the country's already troubled economy and deepening its isolation.
That launch, dismissed as a failure after the first stage fell into the Sea of Japan without orbiting a satellite, provoked outrage in Tokyo which had threatened to shoot down any debris or rocket that threatened its territory.
Another test failed in similar circumstances in 1998.
Quoting a spokesman for the Korean Committee for Space Technology, North Korea's KCNA official news agency said a satellite would be launched between April 12-16, KCNA said.
"The DPRK is to launch a working satellite, Kwangmyongsong-3, manufactured by itself with indigenous technology to mark the 100th birth anniversary of President Kim Il-sung," the report said.