During a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Friday, the United States sought meaningful progress in the effort to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, but was met instead with a reminder of why China and Russia often find themselves aligned with despotic regimes like Kim Jong Un’s in the eyes of the Western World.
Despite a warming tone between U.S. and Chinese officials since President Trump’s meeting with China’s President Xi weeks ago, the two nations found themselves at odds as to how to effectively move forward with plans to pressure North Korea into relinquishing their nuclear arsenal and arresting any further development of long-range ballistic missiles intended to carry a nuclear payload to targets on the American mainland.
“The key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the 15-member council. China provides North Korea with the vast majority of its oil imports and accounts for an estimated ninety percent of North Korea’s import and export markets – making them one, if not the, only nation on the planet with economic leverage that may be sufficient to dissuade Kim. As a result, the Trump White House has made Chinese pressure an important part of its strategy on North Korea.
“It is necessary to put aside the debate over who should take the first step and stop arguing who is right and who is wrong,” Wang told the council. “Now is the time to seriously consider resuming talks.”
China seeking to re-open negotiations with North Korea could be seen by many as effectively wiping the slate clean in regard to previous attempts at the same, which have been met repeatedly with failure. On multiple occasions, agreements between North Korea and the United States, as well as international talks that included China, Japan, and Russia, among others, have led to denuclearizing agreements that were ultimately violated or simply tossed out by the Kim regime.
“We will not negotiate our way back to the negotiating table with North Korea, we will not reward their violations of past resolutions, we will not reward their bad behavior with talks.” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responded to the Chinese suggestion of opening another series of negotiations that would likely include offering North Korea economic or aid incentives once again in return for promises of ending their nuclear program.
Tillerson has been critical of the UN Security Council’s failure to fully enforce sanctions on North Korea in the past; claiming that tensions may have not reached this level if all members of the council had taken appropriate action to prevent it.
“Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences,” he added. “The threat of a nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real, and it’s only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland.”
Russia, who is continuing to provide military support to Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria despite repeated allegations of the use of banned chemical weapons on civilians, took this opportunity to split the blame for the current circumstances between North Korea and the United States.
“The combative rhetoric coupled with reckless muscle-flexing has led to a situation where the whole world seriously is now wondering whether there’s going to be a war or not,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the council. “One ill thought out or misinterpreted step could lead to the most frightening and lamentable consequences.”
He went on to call the use of force against North Korea, “completely unacceptable.”
It’s worth noting that, although Russia has downplayed its open support of North Korea since the fall of the Soviet Union, they continue to maintain peaceful ties and have openly claimed that they are seeking improved relations with Kim Jong Un’s government.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida explained to the council that bringing North Korea back to the negotiating table must come with a “strong message that provocation comes at a high price.”
“There is no doubt that dialogue is necessary … however under the current situation where North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, meaningful dialogue is clearly not possible,” he said.
President Trump’s strategy on North Korea would seem to place a large emphasis on Chinese support, though China has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to try to play both sides, responding to North Korea’s threats of pre-emptive nuclear strikes by calling on the United States and allies to “exercise restraint,” but claiming that they too seek a denuclearized Korean peninsula.
Image courtesy of Reuters