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More Sanctions or Less: China and the United States differ on DPRK sanctions

Last Friday, the United States announced that it will be introducing a Security Council resolution “to update and strengthen the [DPRK] sanctions regime.” US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield cited Security Council Resolution 2397 (2017), stating that the resolution decided that the Council would take action in the event of further ballistic missile launches by the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea. 

The open Security Council meeting, the first since 2017, was requested by the United States, Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, and the United Kingdom. The meeting comes after a March 24 launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by the DPRK, the country’s 13th missile test this year alone. Briefing the Council on the missile launch, Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo stated that the missile “covered a range of 1090 kilometers and reached an apogee of around 6200 kilometers,” landing within Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The DPRK has not conducted an ICBM test since November 2017.

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun stated that the Chinese-Russian Security Council draft which would ease sanctions, as well as the “the humanitarian and livelihood plight in the DPRK,” was still on the table and called on all parties to support the draft. Referring to the positive political developments of 2018, Ambassador Zhang  said that DPRK’s actions were not reciprocated, and argued that “[a]dvancing a political settlement and easing the sanctions at appropriate times is also an important aspect of those [DPRK sanctions] resolutions.” Maintaining that the onus was on the United States to return to talks, he asked whether the United States was “going to continue using the Peninsula issue as a bargaining chip in their geopolitical strategy” and suggested that the United States “should offer an attractive proposal to pave the way for early resumed dialogue.” 

The Russian Federation’s Deputy Permanent Representative, Anna Evstigneeva, delivered a statement in line with Ambassador Zhang’s assessment that sanctions were worsening the situation, and that “further strengthening of sanctions against DPRK would go beyond the framework of cutting off financing for missile and nuclear programs and would threaten North Korean citizens with unacceptable socioeconomic and humanitarian problems.”

Japan and the Republic of Korea, both of which are not current Security Council members, spoke at the meeting expressing support for the US initiative.  

After the meeting, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield delivered a joint statement on behalf of Albania, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Korea, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States, calling on United Nations member states to join them in condemnation of the DPRK’s behavior and implement the sanctions regime, “mindful that Security Council Resolution 2397 refers to further Security Council action in response to a DPRK ICBM launch.” This group of countries included 8 out of 15 members of the Security Council. Gabon, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico, Russia, and China did not participate in the joint statement.

The United States and China are permanent members of the UN Security Council, both possessing the power to veto resolutions that are put to a vote. The Security Council has unanimously adopted resolutions sanctioning the DPRK since 2006. Under-Secretary-General DiCarlo stressed the need for the Security Council to maintain unity on this matter, stating that it was “essential to ease tensions, overcome the diplomatic impasse and avoid a negative action-reaction cycle.“

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