Korean crisis: between lobbing missiles, Kim Jong-un looks to Russia for support
Just as signs emerged that cooperation between China and the United States on solving the North Korea problem may be fracturing, a ballistic missile was fired.
The failed launch, believed to be a medium-range missile that landed 35 kilometres from the launch site at Bukchang, came hours after a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council, where foreign ministers debated how to curb North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
Strong sanctions that could cripple North Korea are on the cards. Multiple world leaders have warned of the risk of war.
But rather than providing unanimous support for the path forward, China and Russia rounded on the United States, demanding that it and South Korea stop massive military drills on the Korean Peninsula, and criticising the US move to install its controversial anti-missile shield, THAAD, in South Korea this week.
China rejected the Washington line that China alone had the economic leverage over North Korea to bring the regime to heel.
"It is unrealistic to ask one country to make all the concessions," said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Wang told the meeting THAAD "seriously undermines" China's strategic security, and "damages trust" among the parties trying to resolve the North Korean crisis.
South Korea's Foreign Minister, Yun Byung-se, in turn demanded an explanation of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the sidelines of the meeting, over US President Donald Trump's comment that he would make South Korea pay the $US1 billion ($1.3 billion) cost of installing THAAD.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported the Trump remark had been seen locally as a "slap in the face"of the US ally, which had agreed to host the controversial missile shield on the understanding that the US would pay.
Seoul has already faced economic reprisals from Beijing as a result. With a South Korean election within a fortnight, there is now a risk any new government may reject THAAD.
Amid the discord, in lobs Kim's missile.
What had changed since Tuesday, the 85th anniversary of North Korea's military, and widely expected to be the trigger for a nuclear test or missile launch?
Kim opted for a massive live-fire drill of artillery, submarine torpedoes and bombing for the anniversary. It produced spectacular imagery, but avoided the red line drawn by China and the US.
China had warned North Korea that any nuclear test would trigger sanctions by China, Tillerson revealed to the media on Thursday.
On Tuesday, the firm public message from Washington and Beijing held. By week's end, it is not so simple, after the US moved on Wednesday to install most of the components needed to make the anti-missile shield operational.
Trump tweeted on Saturday that: "North Korea disrespected the wishes of China and its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad."
Trump has made much of his personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and their close communication over North Korea.
But China has also moved to closer communication with Russia on North Korea. Xi sent an envoy to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
North Korean media reports reveal Kim's regime may be seeking Russian support, to continue trade links, and backing in the UN Security Council.
China's flurry of diplomatic engagement with Russia this week may have been an attempt to dissuade Putin from filling the trade gap as China imposes sanctions on North Korea.
China and Russia have historically competed for fishing rights in North Korea, one of the new sanctions believed to be under discussion.
China may have won this backing from Russia, but now appears, with Russia, to want more in return from America - an end to the Korean Peninsula military drills and a return to dialogue.
Tillerson told the UN meeting the US won't reward bad behaviour with talks, and North Korea needs to move first.
Did Kim see the wedge?
( Source )