North Korea

China condemns Canada ‘cold war’ North Korea summit for keeping military strike option alive

Beijing presses for dialogue while Tokyo and Washington caution against naivety in dealings with Pyongyang

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 7:42am

China has denounced a 20-nation call for tougher sanctions against North Korea, saying the gathering in Canada was a product of “cold war thinking” and a sign that the United States was still considering a military strike on Pyongyang.

The two-day meeting organised by Canada and the US wrapped up on Tuesday with the participants – all supporters of South Korea in the Korean war – agreeing to consider tougher sanctions to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

During the meeting, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Pyongyang that it could trigger a military response if it did not choose to negotiate.

But on Wednesday Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang condemned the meeting from which China and Russia were excluded, saying “it would divide the international community and damage the chances of an appropriate settlement on the peninsula”.

“Only through dialogue, equally addressing the reasonable concerns of all parties, can a way to an effective and peaceful resolution be found,” Lu said.

China rejects Vancouver talks on North Korea crisis as illegitimate

The nations at the meeting included Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Sweden and Australia. According to United Nations data, the 20 nations did not have any trade with North Korea in 2016, raising a question mark over how effective a joint push could be without input from China and Russia, two of North Korea’s remaining trade partners.

Wang Sheng, a research fellow at the Co-Innovation Centre for Korean Peninsula Studies at Jilin University, said the meeting sent a signal that Washington still wanted to put pressure on Pyongyang even though tensions on the peninsula had eased with Seoul and Pyongyang engaging in talks.

“The timing of this meeting, which is to seek tougher measures against Pyongyang, is a bit inappropriate given that the situation on the Korean peninsula has warmed up recently,” Wang said.

“The attendance of countries that were once participants in the Korean war gave out a very negative signal that the US might still insist on pushing North Korea to the extreme ... and that a military strike is still on the table.”

The Vancouver meeting pledged to ensure that UN sanctions already in place were fully implemented.

In a joint statement, the participants also agreed “to consider and take steps to impose unilateral sanctions and further diplomatic actions that go beyond those required by UN Security Council resolutions”.

US and allies want harder line on North Korea sanctions but will China and Russia agree to tougher measures?

Wrapping up the talks, Tillerson said the threat posed by North Korea was growing.

“We all need to be very sober and clear-eyed about the current situation ... We have to recognise that the threat is growing and if North Korea does not choose the pathway of engagement, discussion, negotiation, then they themselves will trigger an option,” he said.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said the world should not be naive about North Korea’s “charm offensive” in engaging in talks with the South.

“It is not the time to ease pressure, or to reward North Korea,” he said. “The fact that North Korea is engaging in dialogue could be interpreted as proof that the sanctions are working.”

Zhang Liangui, a professor of international strategic research at China’s Central Party School, said Washington used the meeting to try to step up pressure on Pyongyang but whether it could influence North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was an open question.

“One of the meeting’s agenda items was to stop the transfer of oil to the reclusive state. Currently, the core of the nuclear problem – Kim’s insistence that he will not stop developing nuclear weapons – has not disappeared. We need to see whether this method can stop or accelerate Kim’s nuclear ambitions,” Zhang said.

Additional reporting by Reuters