The United States and its allies on Wednesday pressed the UN Security Council to condemn North Korea after it test-fired a missile into Japanese-controlled waters for the first time, but they encountered resistance from China.
The 15-member council met behind closed doors for emergency talks called by the United States, Japan and South Korea over the ballistic missile launch, the latest provocation from Pyongyang.
US Ambassador Samantha Power called for a "strong, swift response from the Security Council" after the meeting, describing the missile test as "another grave threat to international peace and security."
"This missile landed incredibly close to Japan and this program poses a threat that goes well beyond any particular country," she told reporters.
The United States was expected to circulate a draft council statement condemning North Korea, but China's ambassador Liu Jieyi urged caution.
"Nothing should be done to exacerbate tension on the Korean Peninsula," said Liu. "There is a real risk. I think we need to work responsibly."
The council met in emergency session after North Korea fired two intermediate-range missiles simultaneously, but one appeared to explode on takeoff.
The second missile landed in the Sea of Japan (East Sea), some 250 kilometers (155 miles) off Japan's northern coast and within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The council has repeatedly condemned North Korea's missile launches, but a US-drafted statement circulated last month hit a wall during negotiations with China, Pyongyang's closest ally.
Britain's Deputy Ambassador Peter Wilson said: "This is the first time that a DPRK missile has landed in the Japanese EEZ. I think this is something that the council should take extremely seriously." DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.
Wilson said the latest launch was "a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions" that prohibit North Korea from developing missile technology.
The United States, Japan and 10 other countries have meantime asked the UN sanctions committee to investigate the July 18 launch of three Scud ballistic missiles and a No Dong intermediate-range missile, according to a letter obtained by AFP.
The 10 Security Council members along with Australia and South Korea asked the committee to review details of the launch and "take appropriate action," according to the letter sent last week.
The investigation could identify individuals and companies involved in North Korea's missile program who could face targeted sanctions including a global visa ban and assets freeze.
China and Russia did not back the request.
North Korea has been hit by five sets of UN sanctions since it first tested an atomic device in 2006.
The Security Council in March adopted its toughest sanctions resolution to date, banning exports of coal, iron and other minerals from North Korea and imposing other restrictions, in particular in the banking sector.
United Nations, United States | AFP |