There were important technical arguments for the DPRK scientists not attempting to launch a large, liquid fuel rocket from an outdoor pad in mid-December.
It seems, however, that the DPRK's decision was political rather than technical. Consider this remarkable statement from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs' December 6 press conference:
Q: The DPRK has completed the installation of its rocket and is likely to launch a satellite next week. What is China's comment?Translated into plain speech, that would come out:
A: The Chinese side has made clear its position several times on the DPRK's plan to launch a satellite. As a sovereign country, the DPRK has the right of peaceful use of the outer space. However, given the situation on the Korean Peninsula and the restrictions of relevant UN Security Council resolutions, the Chinese side hopes that the DPRK could act prudently with the larger interests of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula in mind. We also hope that other parties to the Six-Party Talks can take a long-term and calm approach and avoid taking actions that may further escalate the situation.
"We maintain that the DPRK has the sovereign right to shoot off rockets until, of course, it should ever try to exercise that right. As for you other participants in the Six-Party talks, you owe us for this, big time."
I hope that despite the election-enervated state of this blessed land, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sends the Chinese Embassy a nice bouquet, a big box of Belgian chocolates or a culturally sensitive equivalent.
As for how this turn of developments will play out on the campaign trail, I do not think it likely that either Liberal Democratic Party president Abe Shinzo, Japan Restoration Association leader Ishihara Shintaro or Democratic Party of Japan leader Noda Yoshihiko will be yelling, "Hey! Thank you, China!" to the crowds.
I do not think the PRC government expects them to do so either.
A hat tip to Chris Nelson for pointing out the relevant passage in Hong Lei's press conference.