China to N. Korea: Halt mis­sile, nuke tests

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion cau­tiously em­braces China’s co­op­er­a­tion.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Josh Lederman

A global pres­sure cam­paign on North Korea pro­pelled by sharp new U.N. sanc­tions re­ceived a wel­come boost Sun­day from China, the North’s eco­nomic life­line, as Bei­jing called on its neigh­bor to halt its mis­sile and nu­clear tests.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion cau­tiously em­braced China’s ap­par­ent new­found co­op­er­a­tion, 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 U.N. 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,” Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said in char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally un­der­stated fash­ion.

For the United States, it was a long-awaited 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 U.N. vote.

“Do not vi­o­late the U.N.’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.

Would Tiller­son in­ter­act with his North Korean coun­ter­part, even in­for­mally, if they crossed paths in Manila? It was a ques­tion driv­ing the hall­way chat­ter at the gath­er­ing, but the U.S. shot down that prospect and said Tiller­son had no plans to in­ter­act with Ri.

Tiller­son, who was sched­uled to at­tend a gala din­ner Sun­day, skipped it. Ri did not. The North Korean was spot­ted at the gala smil­ing and toast­ing with the other for­eign min­is­ters.

Tiller­son aide R.C. Ham­mond said that after a pro­duc­tive first day, Tiller­son spent sev­eral hours pre­par­ing for Day 2. In­stead, the U.S. was rep­re­sented at the din­ner by Thorn­ton, whose of­fi­cial ti­tle is act­ing as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of State for East Asia and Pa­cific Af­fairs.

Though Tiller­son has em­pha­sized the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s will­ing­ness to sit down with North Korea for ne­go­ti­a­tions, he’s said that won’t hap­pen un­til the North agrees to aban­don its nu­clear as­pi­ra­tions. Even with new U.N. sanc­tions in place in­tended to drive Py­ongyang back to the ta­ble, con­di­tions still aren’t ripe for talks, U.S. diplo­mats said.

But Wang, the Chi­nese en­voy, cast Ri’s pres­ence in Manila as a pos­i­tive, en­abling him to “hear the voices from other sides.” Speak­ing in Chi­nese, Wang said that Ri “also has the right to share his opin­ions.”

Ri hasn’t spo­ken publicly since ar­riv­ing in the Philip­pines. But a com­men­tary in the rul­ing party’s Rodong Sin­mun news­pa­per said Wash­ing­ton had dis­re­garded the warn­ing the North sent with its in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile tests and was pur­su­ing “des­per­ate ef­forts” in the form of stepped-up sanc­tions. “Now the U.S. main­land is on the cross­roads of life and death,” the com­men­tary warned.

The new sanc­tions could cut off roughly one-third of North Korea’s es­ti­mated $3 bil­lion in an­nual ex­ports, os­ten­si­bly deny­ing the na­tion of funds for its weapons pro­grams. All coun­tries are now banned from im­port­ing North Korean coal, iron, lead and seafood prod­ucts, and from let­ting in more North Korean la­bor­ers whose re­mit­tances help fund Kim Jong Un’s regime.

The U.S. drafted the sanc­tions res­o­lu­tion and ne­go­ti­ated it with China fol­low­ing North Korea’s un­prece­dented test of an ICBM in July and a fol­low-up test weeks later. Those tests sharply es­ca­lated U.S. fears that Py­ongyang is a key step closer to mas­ter­ing the tech­nol­ogy needed to strike Amer­i­can soil with a nu­clear-tipped mis­sile.

Yet de­spite deem­ing North Korea a top se­cu­rity threat, the young Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has strug­gled to find a strat­egy that dif­fers sig­nif­i­cantly from what the U.S. has tried in the past. Aside from call­ing for more sanc­tions, Trump’s ap­proach has cen­tered on en­list­ing China — the North’s big­gest trad­ing part­ner — and oth­ers to lessen ties to Py­ongyang.

Trump’s ini­tial op­ti­mism about China’s will­ing­ness to help gave way to pub­lic ex­as­per­a­tion, with Trump say­ing Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping had “tried” but that it “has not worked out.” Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion be­gan float­ing po­ten­tial plans to pun­ish China for its trade prac­tices in what was widely per­ceived as a re­ac­tion to China’s in­ac­tion on North Korea.

But in re­cent days, the two pow­ers have started to pa­per over some of those dif­fer­ences. Bei­jing praised Tiller­son for declar­ing the U.S. wasn’t seek­ing regime change in North Korea. Trump has held off, for now, on the trade ac­tions. And China joined the 15-0 vote in the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on the new sanc­tions.

“Who has been car­ry­ing out the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions con­cern­ing North Korea? It is China,” Wang, the Chi­nese for­eign min­is­ter, said Sun­day. “Who bore the cost? It is also China.”

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