Chinese Backing Sought by U.S. for New North Korea Sanctions

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens to a briefing at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarised Zone separating the two Koreas. Photographer: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. will ask China to help it enforce new sanctions against North Korea, targeting members of Kim Jong Il’s regime and the front companies and foreign banks that help sustain the country’s weapons industry.

“China obviously has a big role to play in this,” State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said in Washington yesterday after the new restraints were announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a briefing in Seoul. The U.S. will consult with China on “additional steps that it can take,” he told reporters.

The tightening of U.S. sanctions may raise tensions as Clinton heads to Hanoi for a meeting on regional security that includes her counterparts from North Korea and China. North Korea, whose economy has been battered by existing trade restrictions, has threatened to retaliate against new curbs.

“These measures are not directed at the people of North Korea, who have suffered too long due to the misguided and malign priorities of their government,” Clinton said in Seoul. “They are directed at the destabilizing, illicit and provocative policies pursued by that government.”

In Washington, Crowley said the sanctions were partly intended to punish North Korea for the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, near the two countries’ maritime border. The North denies any part in the incident.

“The measures seem to be aimed at what would hurt North Korea the most: its cash line,” said Kim Yong Hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul-based Dongguk University. “It remains to be seen how far the U.S. is willing to push it through, as it wouldn’t want a total collapse in dialogue.”

Envoy’s Trip

Clinton’s adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, Robert J. Einhorn, will travel to China early next month on a trip to drum up support for the new sanctions across Asia, Crowley said. The measures are expected to be put into effect in about two weeks, Crowley said.

North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun arrived in Hanoi for the summit on a Vietnam Airlines flight from Beijing. He smiled and waved to reporters at the airport before climbing into a Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan without making a comment.

The U.S. didn’t discuss the new sanctions with China before Clinton’s announcement, and Clinton will explain the move to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi at the Hanoi conference, Crowley said.

“These are concrete actions, they are not about rhetoric,” Crowley said. “We want to send an unmistakable signal to North Korea that provocative actions like the kind that we saw recently, the sinking of a ship, have a consequence.”

Lessons Learned

The U.S. has learned lessons from existing sanctions that will help make the new measures more effective, Crowley said. The sanctions will target diplomats and North Korean companies involved in illegal activities such as money laundering, counterfeiting, cigarette smuggling and trafficking in conventional weapons, he said.

Much of those profits are used to support the North’s nuclear weapons program and to import luxury goods for the country’s leaders, he added.

UN sanctions imposed on North Korea over its defiance of an international ban on missile tests caused the country’s international commerce to shrink 9.7 percent last year, according to the Seoul-based trade agency, Kotra. North Korea doesn’t release its own trade figures.

Further Punishment

Continued threats against South Korea and military provocation would only lead to further punishment for the North Korean regime, Clinton said.

The sinking of the Cheonan has prompted the U.S. and South Korea to showcase their military and political alliance. The two countries said they will conduct joint naval and air exercises off South Korea’s east coast next week.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were among defense officials who were also in South Korea for what Clinton described as “a real show of solidarity” and to mark the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean war.

The 97,000-ton aircraft carrier USS George Washington and three destroyers arrived in the country yesterday.

In a joint statement after the talks, the U.S. and South Korea urged North Korea to acknowledge that it was behind the attack. The North has said that the evidence of its involvement in the sinking was cooked up as an excuse for the U.S. to wage a “war of aggression.”

Containing China

The U.S. drills mask a hidden aim to “pressurize and contain other big powers by force of arms in the region,” the state-run Korea Central News Agency said yesterday.

China, North Korea’s biggest economic partner, said it is “firmly opposed” to foreign military activities off its coastal waters.

China has refused to join international condemnation of North Korea, saying that it has no independent evidence of the North’s role in the ship sinking.

Clinton and Gates made an unprecedented joint trip to the armed border dividing the Korean peninsula yesterday.

Clinton said that as she looked across the line that divides North from South “it struck me that although it may be a thin line, these two countries are worlds apart.”

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