Welcome boost from China to global pressure on North Korea
A global pressure campaign on North Korea propelled by sharp new UN sanctions received a welcome boost Sunday from China, the North’s economic lifeline, as Beijing called on its neighbour to halt its missile and nuclear tests.
The Trump administration cautiously embraced China’s apparent newfound co-operation, while putting it on notice that the U.S. would be watching closely to ensure it didn’t ease up on North Korea if and when the world’s attention is diverted elsewhere. But there were no signs the U.S. would acquiesce to China’s call for a quick return to negotiations.
The diplomatic wrangling sought to build on the sweeping new North Korea sanctions passed by the UN Security Council a day earlier — the strongest in a generation, the U.S. said. As diplomats gathered in the Philippines for an annual regional meeting, President Donald Trump was cheering the move. He cited the “very big financial impact’’ of the sanctions and noted optimistically that both China and Russia had joined in the unanimous vote.
“It was a good outcome,’’ U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in characteristically understated fashion.
For the U.S., it was a longawaited sign of progress for Trump’s strategy of trying to enlist Beijing’s help to squeeze North Korea diplomatically and economically. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, meeting with North Korea’s top diplomat during the gathering in Manila, urged the North to “maintain calm’’ despite the UN vote.
“Do not violate the UN’s decision or provoke international society’s goodwill by conducting missile launching or nuclear tests,’’ Wang said, in an unusually direct admonition.
Tillerson did not meet with North Korea’s envoy, Ri Yong Ho. In fact, on his first day in Manila, Tillerson appeared to go out of his way to avoid crossing paths with Ri.
Though Beijing repeated its call for the United States and North Korea to resume talks, the U.S. said that was still premature, and rejected yet again a Chinese call for the U.S. to freeze joint military exercises with South Korea in exchange for the North halting nuclear development. Pyongyang views the military exercises as rehearsals for an invasion.
The U.S. also warned it planned to rigorously monitor China’s compliance with the new penalties. Susan Thornton, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia, said Beijing had historically cooperated with sanctions after flagrant North Korean violations but then slipped back over time.
“We want to make sure China is continuing to implement fully the sanctions regime,’’ Thornton told reporters in Manila. “Not this kind of episodic back and forth that we’ve seen.’’
Infusing the diplomatic gathering with dramatic intrigue was the presence of Ri, the odd man out at a meeting dominated by concerns about his nation’s nuclear proliferation. Indeed, the U.S. was floating a proposal to temporarily kick North Korea out of the 27-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum, although other member nations are divided about that idea.
In this photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, South Korea’s Hyunmoo II Missile system, left, and a U.S. Army Tactical Missile System, right, fire missiles during a combined military exercise between the two countries against North Korea at an undisclosed location in South Korea last month.