Last updated: March 7, 2013 11:42 pm

US urges China to enact N Korea sanctions

The US urged China on Thursday to implement a new round of UN sanctions on North Korea designed to prevent imports of materials it can use in its nuclear weapons programme.

The 15-country UN Security Council voted unanimously to approve the new package of sanctions, which was authored by the US and which was the product of three weeks of negotiations between Washington and Beijing following North Korea's latest nuclear device test last month.

The focus will turn to implementation of the resolution by China, which has approved three previous rounds of sanctions on its North Korean ally, but which has been accused of lax monitoring of equipment being purchased by Pyongyang.

“The next steps include strong implementation in co-ordination with China,” said Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN. “China is definitely increasingly frustrated with North Korea. But there still are very real limitations on how far it’s prepared to go on a national and bilateral basis to squeeze the regime.”

Before the vote on sanctions, North Korea stepped up its rhetoric, vowing to launch “a pre-emptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors”.

Chinese and US diplomats agreed this week on an initial draft of the resolution, which includes a requirement for all states to “inspect all cargo within or transiting through their territory that has originated in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], or that is destined for the DPRK”, if there are “reasonable grounds” to believe the cargo might contravene existing sanctions.

Previous resolutions had called on states to do this, but the new one would make it mandatory, meaning they would be obliged to act on any suspicions of trade in nuclear materials, certain luxury goods or other banned items.

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Beijing’s approval of the clause illustrates a hardening of its stance following North Korea’s latest nuclear test and its rocket launch in December. State media have criticised North Korea’s actions, and Deng Yuwen, deputy editor of an influential Communist party journal, wrote in the Financial Times last week that China should “give up on Pyongyang and press for the reunification of the Korean peninsula”.

“The new sanctions are more than baby steps but they are not a fundamental breakthrough,” said Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The real question is the extent to which Beijing is willing to enforce them.”

Although some Chinese academics were calling for Beijing to break with Pyongyang, she said it was very unlikely that the new leadership would significantly change relations.

China is also overwhelmingly North Korea’s most important legitimate trade partner. Trade between the two countries rose 5.4 per cent to $5.9bn in 2012, although this was far slower growth than a 62 per cent expansion in the previous year, according to the Seoul-based Korea International Trade Association.

North Korea has smuggled much of the technology and materials for its nuclear programme through “the enormous and ill-controlled Chinese industrial sector”, according to Siegfried Hecker of Stanford University, a leading authority on Pyongyang’s weapons programme.

The new sanctions are more than baby steps but they are not a fundamental breakthrough

- Bonnie Glaser, CSIS Asia expert

Among other new sanctions included in the draft resolution is an order for the freezing of the assets of three North Korean officials and two organisations that are accused of involvement in arms dealing or the development of nuclear weapons. It also strengthens measures against North Korean banks and against the flow of funds that could be used in its nuclear programme.

Meanwhile, tensions rose between Pyongyang and Seoul, which look likely to conduct big military drills simultaneously next week. South Korea and the US will begin the second of two joint exercises next Monday and Seoul officials say they have evidence that North Korea is preparing for its own combined exercises next week.

However, it would not be in Pyongyang’s interest to launch an attack, said Moon Chung-in of Yonsei university in Seoul. Despite its standing army of more than a million troops, North Korea’s military resources are meagre and outdated compared with those of the US.

“I think it’s unlikely that they would undertake offensive measures,” Mr Moon said.

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This article has been amended to reflect that countries will only be obliged to conduct searches if they have “reasonable grounds” that the cargo contravenes existing sanctions

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