North Korea, which was condemned in a statement by the United Nations Security Council’s president for its April 5 launch of a long-range rocket, has taken a provocative attitude of late. It has announced its withdrawal from the six-party talks for the denuclearization of the country and kicked out International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring officials as well as threatened to restart plutonium production at its Yongbyon nuclear complex and to carry out its second explosion of a nuclear device.

An unconfirmed newspaper report says activity of personnel and vehicles at the site where North Korea carried out its first nuclear test, in October 2006, has become brisk again.

Recently Mr. Stephen W. Bosworth, the U.S. special envoy, visited China, South Korea and Japan, and made it clear that the United States seeks to “engage both multilaterally and bilaterally with North Korea.” Despite his statement, North Korea said it will “bolster its nuclear deterrent.” It also accused the U.S. administration of President Barack Obama of maintaining a hostile policy toward North Korea.

In this situation, the role of China, which chairs the six-party talks and has close ties with North Korea, is important. China has been careful not to unnecessarily provoke North Korea or push it into further isolation. Together with Russia, it opposed the move by Japan and the U.S. to have the UNSC issue a binding resolution condemning North Korea for its April 5 rocket launch.

Efforts by China and Russia bore fruit in the form of the issuing of a nonbinding statement by the UNSC president. There is the view that North Korea was shocked even by China and Russia’s agreeing to the issuance of this statement.

Pyongyang’s provocative attitude can be interpreted as a sign of weakness. It will be important for Japan, the U.S. and South Korea, on the one hand, and China and Russia, on the other, to act in unison when dealing with the North.

With perseverance, the five nations need to make North Korea realize that continuing a provocative attitude will be detrimental to its own interest.

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