China rejects US call for tougher sanctions against North Korea over nuclear bomb test
United States Secretary of State John Kerry has failed to secure China’s support for tougher sanctions against North Korea in the wake of its fourth nuclear bomb test earlier this month.
The two sides, which held talks in Beijing on Wednesday, have agreed only to pursue a new UN Security Council resolution on the matter.
Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced their joint support for the resolution after holding talks in Beijing to discuss a stronger response to reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had carried out a nuclear bomb test on January 6.
While the US was reportedly seeking punitive sanctions, including bans on oil exports to China’s neighbour and imports of North Korean mineral resources, Beijing emphasised the importance of returning to the negotiating table.
“Our position will not be swayed by specific events or the temporary mood of the moment,” Wang told reporters, adding that a “new resolution should not provoke new tension in the situation or destabilise the Korean Peninsula”.
He added that sanctions were not “an end to themselves”.
Kerry’s visit came three weeks after North Korea detonated what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb.
“It’s not enough to agree on the goal,” Kerry said. “We believe we need to agree on the meaningful steps necessary to get to the achievement of the goal, to the negotiations that result in denuclearisation.”
The North Korea issue dominated the talks between the two, Kerry said.
The discussions were “long and intensive” and the reason for the almost three-hour delay in the start of the joint news conference, he said.
Analysts said that although it was hard for Beijing to agree to Washington’s terms, there might be some Chinese compromises.
“Regarding Kerry’s request, I think China will be accommodating where sanctions can be effective in curbing North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes,” said Jingdong Yuan, a professor at the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney.
Yuan said Beijing could be open to discussions on proposed new sanctions that included more stringent inspections on cargo or transportation that used Chinese ports, with regard to agreed and UN Security Council-sanctioned lists of items.
“However, China probably won’t agree to the kind of sweeping sanctions that the US is proposing, such as stopping Chinese oil exports to North Korea, banning imports of North Korean minerals, or banning North Korean air travel in and out of China,” Yuan said.
Tong Zhao, an associate at Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Programme at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy, said China did not see the US proposal as a viable solution.
Zhao said Beijing believed that efforts to engage North Korea could have a great potential for making Pyongyang rejoin the international community.
“That is the policy China has been pursuing, and smothering economic sanctions will only undermine that effort,” Zhao said.
During the talks Kerry had also pressed Wang for the two countries had to make progress on “concerns and activities in the South China Sea”.
Wang said China would honour its commitment not to militarise the disputed South China Sea, but rejected any allegations that its words were not matched by its actions.
China’s recent move to build up facilities on disputed islands in South China Sea has exacerbated tension in the region as other nations, including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, also claim sovereignty over the whole or part of the territory.
Kerry had earlier visited Cambodia and Laos to urge unity among leaders of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), before a summit with President Barack Obama in California next month.
China insists that any disputes should be handled bilaterally.