China troubled by Pyongyang rocket launch plans

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BEIJING (AP) -- China's foreign minister said Sunday that Beijing is troubled by North Korea's plans to launch a rocket and has urged more diplomacy to handle the situation, a measured response to a provocation that has unsettled the region.

Yang Jiechi said he discussed North Korea's launch plans during trilateral talks with his counterparts from Seoul and Tokyo in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo.

Japan's defense minister has ordered missile units to intercept the North Korean rocket if it or its fragments threaten to hit Japan. Seoul has also warned it might shoot down any parts of the North Korean rocket heading for South Korean territory.

"We considered and exchanged views about the situation on the Korean peninsula, including the announcement by the DPRK that they plan to launch a satellite," Yang told reporters at a press briefing, referring to the North by its formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

North Korea says the rocket will carry a satellite into orbit to study crops and natural resources.

"The Chinese side is troubled by the developments, and strongly encourages everyone involved on all sides, at high and low levels, to remain calm and reasonable," Yang said. "These issues need to be worked out in a diplomatic and peaceful manner."

South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said at the briefing that the launch, planned for sometime between April 12-16, would represent a backward step for the North as they try to rejoin the international community.

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said the key result from the talks was a plan to continue to work together to stop the launch.

The Yonhap news agency reported Saturday that Kim told Yang during bilateral talks that Beijing should play a larger role in mediating international concerns over the launch and called for sanctions if Pyongyang goes through with it.

The North Korean launch is meant as a showcase of national power and technology during celebrations of one of the country's most important days -- the centennial of the April 15 birth of national founder Kim Il Sung.

Washington and others call the launch a cover to test missile systems that could target parts of the United States. While North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests, analysts don't believe it has yet mastered the technology needed to shrink a nuclear weapon and mount it onto a missile.

North Korea has conducted three such launches since 1998. The last launch, in 2009, led to U.N. condemnation and the North walking away from six-nation nuclear disarmament talks; weeks later, Pyongyang carried out its second nuclear test.