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North Korea

Keep up the sanctions against North Korea, former diplomats say

Pressure still needed to stop Pyongyang reverting back to ‘bad behaviour’, they warn, even after Kim Jong-un’s visit to Beijing and apparent easing of tensions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 March, 2018, 3:17pm

Former diplomats from South Korea and the US called on China to maintain sanctions against Pyongyang, after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s inaugural visit to Beijing appeared to reset friendly ties between the two countries.

Yun Byung-se, the previous foreign affairs minister of South Korea, on Wednesday urged China to continue implementing sanctions, hours after officials revealed that Kim had made assurances to Chinese President Xi Jinping about the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

“China played a very important role in making or forcing North Korea to come this far,” Yun said at an Asia Society event in Hong Kong. “We have to maintain … sanctions to the end of the vision we have, the objective we have, which is the final dismantlement of North Korea nuclear weapons.”

It comes after an apparent easing of long-standing tensions on the Korean peninsula, with Kim’s first overseas visit to Beijing culminating in his “unswerving stance” to work towards denuclearisation, China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

While the last year saw escalations over Pyongyang’s continued nuclear ambitions, analysts say economic sanctions from China and other nations in response have taken their toll on the reclusive authoritarian state, reaching the point where the idea of denuclearisation can even enter the official lexicon. China’s measures have been particularly painful, since its imports make up over 90 per cent of its northern neighbour’s total trade.

Daniel Russel, former US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, also warned at the Asia Society event that sanctions must continue to prevent North Korea from reverting back to its “bad behaviour”, referring to its missile and nuclear programmes.

“Sanctions are a bit like penicillin, and it is dangerous to end the regimen prematurely because the problem just comes roaring back in exacerbated form,” he said. “We can’t be blind to the possibility that the pressure of sanctions, particularly those applied by China, have brought Kim Jong-un to a point where he feels forced to consider options that he had consistently rejected thus far.”

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But both Yun and Russel were sceptical that North Korea would be willing to give up its nuclear weapons, citing the need to “raise the cost” to push for steps towards denuclearisation.

At the same event, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd called China’s play to meet Kim in the Chinese capital “quite brilliant” in order to re-emerge as a key player in the crisis after the announcement of direct talks between Kim and US President Donald Trump, as well as Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

“China was left out in the cold … this did not amuse Beijing,” he said. “I’ve had that confirmed at multiple levels, in multiple places. If there’s anything people don’t want to have happen to them is to be excluded from the table.

“China over the intervening few weeks has been hard at work – the precise mechanics we are unfamiliar with, but the result we now see,” Rudd said.

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The former diplomats said the goal of denuclearisation still appeared to be a long way off, and it was unclear whether Kim’s recent overtures reflected a substantial change in North Korea’s policy, given that nuclear weapons were central to the regime.

To reach a peaceful resolution to the crisis, those involved – including China, the US and South Korea – needed to continue to maintain a unified front, they said.