China has broadly agreed to an expansion of United Nations sanctions on North Korea to punish the regime for last month’s rocket launch, according to three UN diplomats familiar with plans for a draft resolution.
The draft resolution condemning North Korea’s nuclear aggression will probably be circulated and put to a vote before South Korea takes over the presidency of the 15-member decision- making body in February, according to the officials, who asked for anonymity because negotiations were private and China’s consent to the reprieve wasn’t yet final.
The U.S. has been pressuring China to agree publicly to the addition of further names and entities to a UN blacklist and to deliver a binding rebuke. China, North Korea’s main ally and one of the council’s five veto-wielding powers, has tended to protect its neighbor and called instead for quiet diplomacy.
China’s decision to back off its opposition to further measures could result in the passage of the first resolution against North Korea in four years. China had argued until now that the international community should attempt to engage with the new leadership and that further sanctions would sour those efforts.
China’s agreement to a resolution is significant politically because it sends a message to the pariah state that it can’t hide behind Beijing indefinitely. It would do little to change the realities on the ground for what is the most isolated and shunned country in the world, the diplomats said.
The UN last tightened sanctions on North Korea in 2009, shortly after it fired a long-range rocket carrying a communications satellite that failed to enter orbit. The botched launch last April of a rocket that exploded minutes after liftoff was met with a statement of condemnation.
After that, the U.S. was adamant that, if North Korea were to repeat a launch, another round of condemnation wouldn’t be enough.
The Chinese have a track record of obstructionism, hindering the work of a UN panel of experts investigating North Korea’s nuclear program and most recently delaying the June release of the group’s findings, according to Western officials.
North Korea has long sealed itself off from the world, with an official state ideology of juche, or self-reliance, and a narrative that pits a resilient regime against a hostile world. There was some hope that might change after Kim Jong Un succeeded as the country’s leader upon the death of his father, Kim Jong-il in December 2011.
In a Jan. 1 speech, Kim signaled he might ease his country’s confrontational approach to South Korea by saying he would focus his energy on reunification and rebuilding the economy of one of the world’s most impoverished nations.
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