Beijing rejects unilateral sanctions as US targets North Korean diplomat in China
Beijing unlikely to expel Pyongyang envoy Washington accuses of human rights abuses, analyst says
Beijing has repeated its opposition to unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang after Washington took rare action against a China-based North Korean diplomat accused of human rights abuses.
The US sanctions on Ku Sung-sop, North Korea’s consul general in Shenyang, come as the United States presses China to put more pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile programmes.
In an unusual step against a foreign diplomat in China, the US Treasury Department announced on Thursday that it had frozen Ku’s US assets and banned him from conducting any transactions with US citizens.
It said Ku had been involved in the forced repatriation of North Korean asylum seekers.
Scott Busby, from the US State Department, said Ku’s case had been raised with China and it was up to Beijing to respond, but the range of possibilities included expelling Ku from the country.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang did not say whether China would comply with the decision, adding that Beijing has maintained normal communication with Pyongyang.
“China opposes any nation imposing unilateral sanctions,” Geng said. “China upholds the United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea.”
Wang Sheng, a professor of Korean affairs at Jilin University, said China was unlikely to expel the North Korean diplomat but might discuss the issue as part of preparations for US President Donald Trump’s trip to China next month.
“China will only enforce the sanctions passed by the UN Security Council,” Wang said. “But to create an amicable atmosphere before Trump’s visit to China, Beijing is expected to negotiate with Washington regarding this matter.”
Sun Xingjie, another Korean affairs expert from Jilin University, said China would play down the US sanctions.
“The sanctions are more of a diplomatic gesture to show Trump’s dissatisfaction with North Korea, rather than a practical way to punish the Kim Jong-un regime. It shows that the US is trying to use all options before finally resorting to military action,” Sun said.
The US took similar action against Kim Min-chol, a North Korean diplomat in Vietnam, accusing him of also taking part in the forced repatriation of North Korean asylum seekers.
Five other North Korean individuals and three entities were sanctioned for various human rights violations, including killings, torture and forced labour.
The other individuals were the director and the deputy director of the Military Security Command, the first vice-minister of the Ministry of People’s Security and the labour minister.
The US Treasury Department said Washington was concerned that the North Korean military, which operates as a secret police force, was punishing all forms of dissent.
“Further, the military operates outside North Korea to hunt down asylum seekers, and brutally detains and forcibly returns North Korean citizens,” it said.
Tensions have risen on the Korean peninsula with Pyongyang’s repeated missile and nuclear tests.
Washington is expected to call for tougher action against Pyongyang when Trump visits China next month.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday that the US was committed to a “diplomatic solution” for North Korea.
Additional reporting by Reuters