Nightly News   |  December 12, 2012

Will China support tougher sanctions on North Korea?

China has offered a rare criticism of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, after the country fired a long-range rocket that has been described by U.S. officials as a weapons test. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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>>> good evening. perhaps because they have tried before and failed, perhaps because they could now conceivably strike the west coast of the united states , when north korea successfully fired off a multistage ballistic missile late last night, it got the world's attention and it set off a lot of alarms. the u.s. has condemned it along with much of the rest of the world . while the u.s. is now technically within range, so are a lot of other countries that are much closer. it's where we begin tonight with our chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell in our d.c. newsroom. andrea, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. after failing four times before, u.s. officials say this time the north koreans succeeded. launching a satellite into space on a three-stage rocket with the range to reach the western u.s. they were celebrating in pyongyang after this announcement by a very excited anchor on north korea 's government newscast. the three-stage rocket carried a satellite, not a warhead. but u.s. officials say this was a weapons test, not a peaceful space launch . three stages flying south between china and south korea . soaring over okinawa, japan. one booster dropped in the yellow sea . another near the philippines. the satellite was wobbling. in the a clean orbit according to radar. still it was a major boost for the north's fledgling leader kim jong -un. in power only a year. the large was also believed timed to intimidate south korea set to hold elections next week. its president held a national security meeting today in an underground bunker . chip th china offered rare criticism of its ally.

>> we have a new leadership here in chi jing ping and there are signs he may be less indulgent of north korea , less indulgent of a nation which officials here privately have likened to a spoiled child.

>> reporter: china is not likely to support a u.s. call for tougher u.n. sanctions against the north.

>> any launch using ballistic missile technology, no matter how north korea chooses to characterize it, is, in fact, a serious violation of two security council resolutions.

>> reporter: despite years of sanctions and famine, north korea continues to spend billions on weapons.

>> they made the calculation that despite the other sarngs s sanctions, despite the other activity, they were going to pursue this, when literally they are starving to death.

>> reporter: now experts fear the next step.

>> a nuclear test could be the next provocation. these things tend to come in cycles. so it's not a good sign that they're starting down the provocation road again.

>> reporter: and china does have the most leverage over its north korean neighbor. the white house just planned a tougher line with the chinese, telling them it should pressure the chinese to stop or else expect a larger naval presence in their backyard.

>>> we now know what americans want to see from their lawmakers in washington. the people