China pushes for new six-party talks as N. Korea crisis enters ‘critical’ phase
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A day after the UN imposed strict new sanctions on North Korea, China’s foreign minister called Sunday for the resumption of six-party talks to halt Pyongyang's nuclear programme and warned that the crisis was entering a “critical” new phase.
In a 15-0 vote on Saturday, the UN Security Council imposed tough new sanctions on North Korea that could slash its exports by as much as $1 billion a year – a third of its export revenue – in response to two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests Pyongyang carried out last month. The July tests heightened fears that North Korean missiles were now capable of hitting the continental United States.
“After the UN resolution is passed, the situation on the peninsula will enter a very critical phase,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, quoted by China’s CGTN state broadcaster. “We urge all parties to judge and act with responsibility in order to prevent the tensions from escalating.”
The UN resolution imposes a total ban on exports of coal, iron, lead, iron and lead ore as well as seafood. It also prohibits new investment in, or the establishment of, joint ventures with North Korean companies. Nine North Korean officials and four entities were added to the UN's blacklist while foreign permits for North Korean workers have been suspended.
Wang warned Pyongyang that it should make “smart” decisions going forward, while counselling Washington and Seoul not to respond with “provocative” actions.
Speaking to reporters after talks with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Hong-Yo on the sidelines of an ASEAN summit in Manila, Wang said he had urged his counterpart to stop testing “the international community's goodwill" with its ICBM launches and nuclear tests.
Wang noted that the new UN resolution also calls for a return to negotiations, saying diplomatic measures were needed to prevent the stand-off from escalating further.
Earlier on Sunday, Wang said that all sides should work toward restarting long-stalled six-party nuclear talks between China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States.
“The aim is to bring the peninsula nuclear issue back to the negotiating table and seek a solution through negotiations until the denuclearisation of the peninsula and the stability of the peninsula are achieved,” he said.
North Korea pulled out of the six-party talks in 2009 after the UN Security Council condemned it for launching a long-range rocket.
A deputy spokeman for the Japanese foreign ministry on Sunday welcomed the UN sanctions but added that more “effective pressure” was needed in dealing with Pyongyang and that it was not yet time to restart talks.
“Now is not the time for dialogue but the time to increase effective pressure on North Korea so that they will take concrete actions towards de-nuclearisation,” Toshihide Ando told a press conference in Manila.
US pressure on Beijing
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly urged China to take a more aggressive role in reining in Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. As North Korea’s largest trading partner, China is uniquely positioned to apply economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
“This is the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation,” Washington's UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said after the Security Council vote.
But she warned that the international community "should not fool ourselves into thinking we have solved the problem – not even close".
"The threat of an outlaw nuclearised North Korean dictatorship remains … [and] is rapidly growing more dangerous," Haley said.
China urges US concessions
In an interview with the MSNBC news channel on Saturday, US National Security Adviser HR McMaster was asked if the United States was gearing up for a pre-emptive “first strike” against North Korea.
Trump “has been very clear” that “he will not tolerate” Pyongyang being able to threaten the United States with a nuclear weapon, McMaster said, and that entails keeping all options – including a “preventive war” – on the table.
But he acknowledged that any military solution would mean “a very costly war, in terms of the suffering of mainly the South Korean people”.
McMaster said the US seeks instead to do “everything we can” to pressure Kim and his regime into concluding that “it is in their interest to denuclearise”.
In his statements on Sunday, Foreign Minister Wang reiterated Beijing’s proposal for what it calls a “double suspension” – a halt to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for an end to the joint US-South Korean military exercises that alarm Pyongyang.
"This is currently the most realistic and plausible initiative, and it is the most reasonable and friendly solution," Wang said.
But speaking to MSNBC, McMaster said Beijing’s plan to offer a freeze on joint training in return for a freeze on Pyongyang’s nuclear programme was no longer viable.
“They are at a threshold capability now. 'Freeze for freeze' doesn’t work anymore,” he said, adding: “The goal is denuclearisation of the peninsula.”