Beijing vows to ‘fully enforce’ UN sanctions against Pyongyang, despite being ‘friendly neighbour’
Affirmation follows rare, veiled attack on China by North Korean official media over coal import ban
China said yesterday it will fully enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea despite maintaining Pyongyang as its friendly neighbour, after the North issued a rare attack on its traditional ally in the aftermath of Beijing halting coal imports.
A thinly veiled commentary published by the Korean Central News Agency on Thursday did not mention China by name or the coal ban, but referred to a “neighbouring country” which often claims to be friendly.
“This country, styling itself a big power, is dancing to the tune of the US, while defending its mean behaviour with such excuses that it wasn’t meant to have a negative impact on the living standards of people in the DPRK but to check its nuclear programme,” the state-run news agency said.
It went on to criticise the neighbour for “unhesitatingly taking inhumane steps such as totally blocking foreign trade related to the improvement of people’s living standards”.
The commentary also lambasted the unnamed nation for joining other enemies of North Korea to “bring down its social system”.
Asked about the commentary, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the sanctions were a clear signal of opposition from the international community to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes, and China would enforce them.
“According to our statistics, China has already approached the upper limits of coal imports from North Korea,” Geng said. “So because of this, we have stopped imports of coal from North Korea with a responsible attitude.
“We are willing to work with North Korea to promote the stable and healthy development of relations,” Geng said, adding that the North was well aware of China’s position on its nuclear programme.
Geng also dismissed renewed pressure from US President Donald Trump over China’s role in North Korea, saying the crux of the matter was a dispute between Washington and Pyongyang.
Trump said on Thursday that China could solve the national security challenge posed by North Korea “very easily if they want to”.
China’s coal imports from North Korea eased last month after UN Security Council sanctions curbing the isolated country’s sales abroad came into effect.
January imports from North Korea eased 13 per cent from a year earlier to 1.45 million tonnes, customs data showed. They were down 28 per cent from December.
Wang Sheng, an expert on North and South Korea at Jilin University in northern China, said the commentary was unlikely to make Beijing soften its stance towards Pyongyang.
“I think what China has been considering is regional security issues rather than bilateral relations between China and North Korea,” Wang said.
“China has said it opposes any regional nations putting their own security concerns above the security of other countries, no matter if it’s South Korea or North Korea. This is China’s approach to solve the problems and I don’t think China will easily change its mind.”
North Korea’s state news agency has published veiled commentaries attacking China before.
These included criticism of Beijing last April after it voted in favour of a UN resolution to impose economic sanctions on Pyongyang after its fourth nuclear test the previous January.
The commentary accused an unnamed country of “subservience” to the United States in the face of “superpower pressure”.
Beijing announced on Saturday that it was suspending coal imports from North Korea to the end of the year.
The move came after Pyongang carried out a ballistic missile test earlier this month and US President Donald Trump has criticised China for not taking tough enough action to help curb North Korea’s weapons programme.
It also coincided with an investigation into the mysterious murder of North Korea leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia.
The North Korean commentary added that it would be “utterly childish” to believe the nation would give up its nuclear weapons programme, even if its trade was cut.
“The DPRK will produce the latest weapons unprecedented in history, as many as it wants, as it has a self-reliant defence industry,” it said.
Additional reporting by Reuters