Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) -- North Korea vowed to boost its nuclear capability after the United Nations Security Council, including its ally China, imposed new sanctions against the totalitarian state for last month’s rocket launch.
“Denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is impossible,” North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. The North “will take physical counteraction to bolster the military capabilities for self defense including the nuclear deterrence.”
The Security Council yesterday unanimously agreed to measures that build on a series of travel bans and asset freezes. The U.S.-drafted resolution imposes sanctions on North Korea’s space agency, targets the illicit smuggling of sensitive items and updates a list of nuclear and ballistic missile technology prohibited for transfer in or out of the country.
“Some may say these sanctions are ‘low-hanging fruit’ and don’t really bite as tightly as they might, yet two factors make these sanctions meaningful,” George Lopez, a former UN sanctions investigator on North Korea, said in an e-mail.
“It signals that consequences await a future violation of any type and acts on recommendations regarding smuggling networks and specific materials to be prohibited,” said Lopez, who teaches at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
North Korea successfully launched a long-range rocket in December, boosting its ballistic capabilities after a failure last April. South Korean officials have warned that the North is prepared to conduct a nuclear weapons test “soon” in a follow up to the missile launch.
Kim Jong Un, who succeeded his late father Kim Jong Il as North Korea’s leader in December 2011, has sought to boost foreign investment while showing no willingness to return to nuclear disarmament negotiations. His Foreign Ministry today announced an “end” to the six-nation talks, which have not met since December 2008.
“There can be talks for peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the region in the future, but no talks for the denuclearization of the peninsula,” the ministry said, quoting an unidentified spokesman.
North Korea traditionally responds to U.S.-led sanctions “head-to-head,” with possible options including another missile firing or nuclear test, said Chon Hyun Joon, senior research fellow at the Korea Institute of National Unification in Seoul.
“There will be some sort of North Korean response but considering the timing of new leadership in China, South Korea and especially in the U.S., the North is likely to take a wait-and-see approach,” Chon said, in reference to the Jan. 20 start of President Barack Obama’s second term.
Incoming South Korean President Park Geun Hye has said that a nuclear North Korea is “unacceptable under any situation,” and vowed to “respond firmly” to any future “reckless provocations” by the North, her spokesman Park Sun Kyoo said on Jan. 13. Park, who takes office on Feb. 25, promised during her campaign to revive inter-Korean dialogue to mend ties battered during her predecessor Lee Myung Bak’s term.
Park’s transition team “strongly urges” North Korea to refrain from testing a nuclear device and other provocative acts, Yonhap News reported, citing spokesman Yoon Chang Jung.
“Park’s greatest challenge is to set sail amid the burdens imposed by the outgoing government,” Chon added. “As a conservative administration, it will be difficult for the Park government to forgo South Korea’s alliance with the U.S. over improving ties with the North.”
South Korea, a new non-permanent member of the Security Council, welcomed yesterday’s actions, citing close cooperation with the U.S. and Japan as well as discussions with China -- North Korea’s most powerful diplomatic backer. Park Geun Hye’s delegation of special envoys will meet incoming Chinese leader Xi Jinping today.
The most significant aspect of the UN vote may be political, with China siding against its ally and neighboring Communist regime in the world body for the first time in four years. North Korea has ignored repeated calls to abandon its nuclear weapons program and to stop test launches to develop long-range ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear warheads.
In the past, China has used its veto power as one of the council’s permanent members to protect the international pariah state. North Korea’s main trading partner had been making the case that quiet diplomacy would be more effective to get cooperation from the totalitarian regime.
“We believe action taken by the council should be prudent, measured, proportionate,” China’s Ambassador to the UN, Li Baodong, told reporters in New York. “Sanctions alone do not work.”
China’s decision to back off its opposition to further will do little to change the realities on the ground.
The 19-year-old daughter of Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt, Sophie, described North Korea as “very, very strange” and “like The Truman Show, at country scale,” according to a blog account of her three-day visit this month as part of a nine-person American delegation that included her father and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
In “The Truman Show,” a 1998 satirical movie starring Jim Carrey, the lead character lives in an artificial town and isn’t aware that his entire life is a reality television show.
Evidence points to the North Korean elite still being able to get their hands on foreign merchandise even though luxury goods such as Mercedes cars and champagne are banned.
In her online observations on North Korea, Sophie Schmidt wrote that the country’s “officials blame American sanctions for just about everything, though somehow the sanctions didn’t stop them from stocking the sparkling new supermarket we saw with Doritos.”
The Security Council 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 April launch of a rocket that exploded minutes after liftoff was met with only a statement of condemnation.
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