Disagreements over North Korea’s tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles and territorial disputes in the South China Sea are preventing foreign ministers from other Asia-Pacific countries from issuing a unified statement about North Korea’s actions, diplomatic sources said Sunday.
Washington had hoped the region’s countries, including members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), would issue a joint communique after their annual gathering in Manila. But Cambodia was concerned its views weren’t adequately reflected in the statement being developed, causing a delay, a diplomat said.
The obstacle came one day after the U.N. Security Council on Saturday unanimously approved new sanctions against North Korea in the wake of the communist nation’s first successful tests of ICBMs capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday urged his North Korean counterpart to abide by U.N. resolutions and stop provoking “the international community’s goodwill” with missile launches and nuclear tests.
Wang spoke to reporters in Manila after meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting.
Wang said the two had an intensive conversation during which China urged North Korea to maintain calm. He said he told Ri, “Do not violate the U.N. decision or provoke the international community’s goodwill by conducting missile launches or nuclear tests.”
Wang also urged the U.S. and South Korea “to stop increasing tensions” and said that all sides should return to negotiations.
The sanctions resolution approved Saturday bans North Korean exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood resources that are worth over $1 billion to the regime of Kim Jong Un. North Korea exported an estimated $3 billion worth of goods last year.
Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., praised the new sanctions, telling council members after the vote that it is “the single largest economic package ever leveled against the North Korean regime.”
But she warned that it is not enough and “we should not fool ourselves into thinking we have solved the problem — not even close.”
“The threat of an outlaw nuclearized North Korean dictatorship remains … (and) is rapidly growing more dangerous,” Haley told council members after the vote.
Countries are also banned from giving any additional permits to North Korean laborers — another source of money for Pyongyang. And it prohibits all new joint ventures with North Korean companies and bans new foreign investment in existing ones.
The resolution was drafted by the U.S. and negotiated with North Korea’s neighbor and ally China. It is aimed at increasing economic pressure on Pyongyang to return to negotiations on its nuclear and missile programs.
The Security Council has already imposed six rounds of sanctions that have failed to halt North Korea’s drive to improve its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons capabilities.
“All of this ICBM and nuclear irresponsibility has to stop,” Haley told reporters as she headed to the council to vote.
The resolution condemns the launches “in the strongest terms” and reiterates previous calls for North Korea to suspend all ballistic missile launches and abandon its nuclear weapons and nuclear program “in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.”
A Security Council diplomat said coal has been North Korea’s largest export, earning $1.2 billion last year which was then restricted by the Security Council in November to a maximum $400 million. This year, Pyongyang was estimated to earn $251 million from iron and iron ore exports, $113 million from lead and lead ore exports, and $295 million from fish and seafood exports, the diplomat said.
The resolution also adds nine North Koreans, mainly officials or representatives of companies and banks, to the U.N. sanctions blacklist, banning their travel and freezing their assets. It also imposes an asset freeze on two companies and two banks.
The council diplomat, who was not authorized to speak publicly and insisted on anonymity, called the newly sanctioned Foreign Trade Bank “a very critical clearing house for foreign exchange.”
The Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies, which was also added to the blacklist, is described in the resolution as engaged in exporting workers for construction, including of monuments, in Africa and Southeast Asia.
The resolution asks the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea to ban the import of many more so-called dual-use items, which have commercial purposes but can also be used in conventional, biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.
It also gives the committee a green light to designate specific vessels that are breaking sanctions from entering ports all over the world and to work with Interpol to enforce travel bans on North Koreans on the sanctions blacklist.
The resolution expresses regret at North Korea’s “massive diversion of its scarce resources toward its development of nuclear weapons and a number of expensive ballistic missile programs” — a point stressed by Haley.
It notes U.N. findings that well over half the population lacks sufficient food and medical care, while a quarter suffers from chronic malnutrition.
“These sanctions will cut deep, and in doing so will give the North Korean leadership a taste of the deprivations they have chosen to inflict on the North Korean people,” Haley said. “Revenues aren’t going toward feeding its people. Instead, the North Korean regime is literally starving its people and enslaving them in mines and factories in order to fund these illegal missile programs.”
Though the economic sanctions have teeth, Washington didn’t get everything it wanted.
In early July, Haley told the Security Council that if it was united, the international community could cut off major sources of hard currency to North Korea, restrict oil to its military and weapons programs, increase air and maritime restrictions and hold senior officials accountable.
Neither oil nor new air restrictions are included in the resolution.
Its adoption follows U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments Wednesday reassuring North Korea that Washington is not seeking regime change or an accelerated reunification of the Korean Peninsula — comments welcomed by China’s foreign minister.
China’s U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi said the Chinese government hopes the United States will translate these commitments “into concrete policies” toward North Korea.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Moscow hopes Tillerson’s assurances “would be clear that the United States is not seeking to dismantle the existing … situation (in North Korea) or to force to reunite the country or militarily intervene in the country.”
Tillerson also said the United States wants to talk eventually with North Korea but thinks discussions would not be productive if Pyongyang comes with the intention of maintaining its nuclear weapons.
North Korea has repeatedly said it will never give up its nuclear arsenal, which it sees as a guarantee of its security.
The resolution reiterates language from previous ones supporting a return to six-party talks with the goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula; expressing the Security Council’s commitment “to a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution to the situation”; and stressing the importance of maintaining peace and stability in northeast Asia.
Liu said “China has been making tireless efforts to promote denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to uphold peace and stability” and will keep working to convince other governments to support its suspension-for-suspension proposal.
Under the proposal and a roadmap supported by Russia, North Korea would suspend nuclear and missile tests in exchange for the U.S. and South Korea suspending their joint military exercises. It also includes security measures for both North Korea and South Korea leading to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
But Haley told the Security Council that U.S.-South Korean military exercises have been carried out regularly and openly for nearly 40 years and “they will continue.”
Russia’s Nebenzia stressed that sanctions “need to be a tool for engaging the country in constructive talks” and must not be used for “economic asphyxiation” of the country or “to deliberately worsen the economic situation.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.