World leaders seek tougher sanctions on North Korea
VLADIVOSTOKWorld leaders have been pushing for tougher sanctions on North Korea after its latest and the most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3, while Pyongyang pledged to take “powerful counter measures” to respond to U.S. pressure or any new sanctions against it over its missile programme.
North Korea on Sept. 7 accused Washington of wanting war in a statement by its delegation to an economic forum in the far eastern Russian port of Vladivostok, which came after the United States said it wanted the U.N. Security Council to impose an oil embargo on North Korea, ban the country’s exports of textiles and the hiring of North Korean labourers abroad, and subject leader Kim Jong Un to an asset freeze and travel ban, according to a draft resolution seen by Reuters on Sept. 6.
“We will respond to the barbaric plotting around sanctions and pressure by the United States with powerful counter measures of our own,” the statement read.
The same statement also accused South Korea and Japan of using the Russian forum to play “dirty politics,” saying the event was meant to be about discussing economic cooperation in the region and not about criticising its missile programme.
China said on Sept. 7 it agreed the U.N.Security Council should take further actions against North Korea, while continuing to push for more dialogue to resolve the crisis on the Korean peninsula and saying it hoped North Korea refrained from further challenging the international consensus.
"Given the new developments on the Korean peninsula, China agrees that the U.N. Security Council should make a further response and take necessary measures," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters, without elaborating.
"Any new actions taken by the international community against the DPRK should serve the purpose of curbing the DPRK's nuclear and missile programmes, while at the same time be conducive to restarting dialogue and consultation," he said, using the initials of North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
China is by far North Korea's biggest trading partner, accounting for 92 percent of two-way trade last year. It also provides tonnes of oil and fuel to the impoverished regime.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he had an executive order ready for Trump to sign that would impose sanctions on any country that trades with Pyongyang if the United Nations does not put additional sanctions on North Korea.
Also on Sept. 7 Russian President Vladimir Putin said he thought the North Korea crisis would not escalate into a large-scale conflict involving nuclear weapons, predicting that common sense would prevail.
But he said he believed North Korea’s leadership feared any freeze of its nuclear programme would be followed by what amounted to “an invitation to the cemetery.”
Putin, speaking alongside his South Korean counterpart and the Japanese prime minister, had previously warned that simmering tensions around Pyongyang’s missile programme could tip into “global catastrophe.”
But on Sept. 7, after days of talks with regional leaders and officials, Putin struck a more optimistic note, saying Russia could see that the administration of Trump wanted to defuse tensions around North Korea.
“I am sure that things will not go as far as a large-scale conflict, especially with the use of weapons of mass destruction,” Putin told delegates at the forum.
“All the competing sides have enough common sense and understanding of their responsibility. We can solve this problem through diplomatic means.”
Putin, who was sharing a platform with South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has spent the past few days pushing for negotiations, calling on all sides to dial down rhetoric.
Putin gave no indication on Sept. 7 whether Moscow would back that resolution; but he and top Russian government officials have previously condemned the idea of tightening sanctions and shown little enthusiasm to stop modest fuel exports to Pyongyang or send home North Korean workers.
Putin said Pyongyang would not end its nuclear and missile programmes because it viewed them as its only means of self-defense.
“It’s impossible to scare them,” said Putin.
Pyongyang was being offered the prospect of no new sanctions if it froze its weapons programmes, but Putin said North Korea believed the wider risks to its own security outweighed the potential economic benefits of such a concession.
“We are telling them that we will not impose sanctions, which means you will live better, you will have more good and tasty food on the table, you will dress better,” said Putin. “But the next step, they think, is an invitation to the cemetery. And they will never agree with this.”
NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, meanwhile, said North Korean behavior is a global threat and is calling for a united response in the Estonian capital on Sept. 7.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, also speaking in Tallinn, said the world should not “enter this spiral of a military confrontation that could be extremely dangerous not only for the region but for the entire world.”
Federica Mogherini said a demilitarization of the Korean Peninsula should be achieved peacefully through dialogue and diplomacy.
Moreover, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said there will not be war on the Korea peninsula.
Amid the rising tensions, Seoul installed the four remaining launchers of the U.S. anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on a former golf course in the south early on Sept 7. Two launchers had already been deployed.
More than 30 people were wounded when around 8,000 South Korean police broke up a blockade of about 300 villagers and civic groups opposed to the THAAD system deployment, fire officials said.
"It is very unfortunate there some wounded, but it was an inevitable choice in order to protect the lives of the people in this situation made serious by North Korea's recent nuclear test," South Korean Interior and Safety Minister Kim Boo-kyum told reporters.
The decision to deploy the THAAD system has drawn strong objections from China, which believes its radar could be used to look deeply into its territory and will upset the regional security balance.
China said it had lodged another stern protest over the THAAD deployment on Sept. 7.
"We again urge South Korea and the United States to take seriously China's and regional nations' security interests and concerns, stop the relevant deployment progress, and remove the relevant equipment," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular media briefing.
"China has already lodged stern representations with South Korea over this," he said.