Beijing blocks sanctions push by Seoul, U.S.

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Beijing blocks sanctions push by Seoul, U.S.

After talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi failed to lead to an agreement on harsh sanctions for North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, Seoul’s diplomatic strategy is being squeezed.

South Korea, in tandem with the United States, has been calling for Beijing to exercise more leverage over Pyongyang.

But China isn’t budging on tough sanctions for Pyongyang, which throws into doubt the South Korean government’s boast of having established the closest ties ever with Beijing in recent years and any role it may play as a mediator on the issue.

In a joint press conference with Kerry in Beijing on Wednesday, Wang said, “Sanctions are not an end in themselves,” emphasizing that dialogue and cooperation are the only ways to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. Beijing also indirectly rejected President Park Geun-hye’s proposal last week for talks among five of the nations involved in the six-party talks that would exclude Pyongyang.

The six-party talks, which involve China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas and which are supposed to convince Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions, have been suspended since late 2008.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has been insisting that Beijing is not the key to resolving the North Korean nuclear problem.

There are also concerns that a United Nations Security Council resolution to respond to Pyongyang’s nuclear test is not gaining momentum quickly enough compared to past resolutions.

Some 23 days have elapsed since North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6.

After the previous three nuclear tests conducted by North Korea, the time to pass a United Nations Security Council resolution did not exceed 23 days. After the first nuclear test in October 2006, it took just five days to produce UNSC Resolution 1718, while the second nuclear test in May 2009 led to Resolution 1874 in 18 days. After the third nuclear test in February 2013, UNSC Resolution 2094 took 23 days to pass.

There is also the possibility that Pyongyang is gearing up for a long-range missile test following its claim to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb on Jan. 6, a claim that is still doubted internationally.

The main impediment to stronger sanctions on Pyongyang remains China.

“China holds the key to sanctions on North Korea,” a foreign affairs official in Seoul said. “If we do not move China, it’s useless.”

“Based on the close cooperation between Korea and the United States, we will push for multilateral efforts to gain traction toward China’s constructive cooperation,” Blue House spokesperson Jeong Yeon-guk told reporters on Thursday. “We will continue to negotiate to strengthen five-party cooperation within the framework of the six-party talks.”

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs also emphasized that strengthening five-party cooperation could lead to a meeting of the five countries, which could in turn head toward “meaningful” six-party talks that also include Pyongyang.

“Our government looks forward to China, as a permanent member of the Security Council and also a member of the six-party talks, to play a more constructive role,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Cho June-hyuck said at a briefing on Thursday.

He added that Korea plans to produce a strong and effective Security Council resolution based on close cooperation between the United States and South Korea and efforts to encourage China to play a role.

Washington also expressed support of the five-party talks proposed by Seoul. “Five-party talks are a chance for those of us who agree on North Korea’s behavior and the need to persuade it or get it to change its ways,” U.S. Department of State deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.

Toner, in a press briefing Wednesday, added that Washington is consulting bilaterally and multilaterally with the other six-party members “to get North Korea to change its ways,” and that it supports such “dialogue going forward.”

Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se met with Thomas Shannon, a counselor of the U.S. State Department and nominee for undersecretary of state for political affairs, on Thursday in Seoul, and the two agreed to accelerate talks to engage China to enable the adoption of a “stronger and more comprehensive” Security Council resolution on North Korea.

BY SARAH KIM, CHUN SU-JIN [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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