North Korea Shrugs Off Sanctions Despite China's Push to End Missile Tests

By Ben Otto Features Dow Jones Newswires

The U.S. praised China for backing new economic sanctions by the U.N. Security Council against Pyongyang over the regime's weapons program, but North Korea indicated to its most important economic partner that there would be no change in policy.

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"The fact that the Chinese were helpful and instrumental in setting up this really sweeping set of international sanctions shows they realize that this is a huge problem they need to take on, that it's a threat to them and their region," Susan Thornton, the U.S. State Department's acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told journalists on the sidelines of regional security meetings in the Philippines on Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is attending the forum bringing together 27 nations, including China, Russia, South Korea and North Korea, described the sanctions as "a good outcome" as he works to curb Pyongyang's nuclear-weapons program.

The Security Council on Saturday unanimously passed a resolution that would slash about $1 billion from North Korea's annual foreign revenue. Ms. Thornton called the sanctions the strongest against the regime in a generation. China and Russia, two permanent council members who had previously resisted fresh sanctions against Pyongyang, said the rogue nation's recent provocations were unacceptable.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday met his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, in Manila and urged Pyongyang to halt its missile tests and other actions that violate Security Council resolutions, according to the People's Daily Online, an official Chinese state media website.

"The China side pressed the North Korea side to deal calmly with the new UN Security Council resolution regarding North Korea, and to stop the missile tests, and even nuclear research, which violate UN Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the international community," the People's Daily Online said.

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The North Korean minister restated Pyongyang's policy on the nuclear weapons issue, but indicated a "willingness to maintain communications with the China side on this point," according to Chinese state media. North Korea says it needs such weapons and maintains the right to build them to defend itself from the U.S.

The nine-page U.N. resolution steps up trade restrictions with Pyongyang by aiming to cut off a third of its $3 billion annual export revenue. It bans North Korea from trading coal, iron, lead, iron and lead ore, and seafood, and prohibits countries from hiring North Korean laborers and from entering or investing into new joint ventures with Pyongyang.

The resolution came after a monthslong drive by the U.S. to pressure nations to isolate the North Korean regime in response to an unprecedented pace of missile testing in its ambitions to become a nuclear power. Last month, North Korea fired two missiles that appeared capable of reaching the continental U.S. and Europe. Diplomats said this raised the stakes and elevated North Korea's military and nuclear threat from regional to global.

Before meeting with the North Korean minister in Manila, Mr. Wang said the sanctions were a necessary reaction to the launches, but urged countries to resume the negotiations known as the six-party talks, stalled since 2008. The talks included China, the U.S., South Korea, North Korea, Japan and Russia.

Mr. Wang repeated China's call for a "dual freeze," in which North Korea would halt its missile and nuclear programs in exchange for the U.S. and South Korea stopping major military exercises. The U.S. and South Korea rebuffed that proposal previously, and Ms. Thornton did so again Sunday.

The U.S. will also focus on ensuring China follows through on fully implementing the new sanctions, Ms. Thornton said, suggesting China had in the past acted initially, before "slipping back" over time. "We want to make sure China...is working actively to continue putting pressure on North Korea," she said.

Ms. Thornton also praised Saturday's "really strong" statement by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which hosts the annual security meetings. The countries condemned North Korea's weapons testing and called on the regime to comply with U.N. measures.

Mr. Tillerson doesn't have a scheduled meeting with North Korea's Mr. Ri, but both men are expected during the meeting of all 27 participants Monday.

The U.S. Secretary of State did meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for more than an hour late Sunday, ahead of a gala dinner. Neither official made any public comment.

Eva Dou in Beijing contributed to this article.

Write to Ben Otto at ben.otto@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 06, 2017 08:17 ET (12:17 GMT)