- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The State Department is pressuring Beijing about its communist ally North Korea following failed efforts to halt the recent rocket launch that proved to be Pyongyang’s first successful long-range missile test.

According to a Western intelligence official, the State Department sent a diplomatic protest note to China after the Dec. 12 launch that placed a non-functioning satellite into orbit.

The message to Beijing from Washington was blunt: Do more to rein in North Korea or the United States will sharply increase military cooperation with Asian allies, including Japan and South Korea.

The Obama administration, as part of its “lead from behind” strategy, had placed responsibility for halting the North Korean missile test on China, arguing it is in Beijing’s interest to maintain regional stability by stopping the launch.

However, China failed to head off the launch, which was the second test this year of what the Pentagon is calling a long-range missile known as the Taepodong-2.

A Chinese delegation visited Pyongyang in early December in what U.S. officials assessed was an attempt to persuade the regime of Kim Jong-un not to conduct the test.

The delegation, however, either did not press the North Koreans to stop the launch or simply traveled to Pyongyang to make it appear that China was responding to U.S. government concerns.

China state television reported Beijng’s “regret” for the launch the day of the test, adding that “if every country does the same, the world will be turned upside down.”

The failure to stop the launch highlights China’s continuing covert support for North Korea, whose military leaders remain closely aligned with China’s communist-ruled military.

The relationship between the People’s Liberation Army and the Korean People’s Army has been characterized in typical Chinese fashion “as close as lips and teeth.”

Those ties do not appear to be changing under the new regimes of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Mr. Kim.

Nuclear test site watched

U.S. intelligence agencies have stepped up monitoring of North Korea’s underground nuclear site in anticipation that Pyongyang will follow past practice by conducting an underground nuclear blast after a long-range missile test.

One official said there were no signs that a nuclear test is imminent, and there was no increased activity at the Kilju test facility in the mountains in the northeastern part of the country.

Official assessments are that North Korea could conduct another nuclear test with little preparation.

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