China Ratchets Up Pressure on North Korea

Rex Tillerson

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. REUTERS Karen Lema

The regime added to the tensions with its threat Wednesday to launch a missile strike on the US territory of Guam in the Pacific.

But it is a different story now.

If enforced, the measures could lop an estimated $1 billion annually off North Korea's meager export revenue of US$3 billion. Tensions have mounted with Pyongyang's two recent successful tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, meeting with North Korea's top diplomat during the gathering in Manila, urged the North to "maintain calm" despite the United Nations vote.

If fully implemented, the new sanctions-which target coal, seafood, and metals exports; prohibit the employment of North Korean guest workers; and expand sanctions on joint economic ventures-could cut North Korea's $3 billion annual export revenue by a third, according to US officials. "The only way to change North Korea's path is robust sanctions against China and others that aid North Korea", Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said on Twitter.

Would the Trump administration settle for something closer to China's preferred course, a freeze on further nuclear or missile testing by North Korea as well as a freeze on further military escalation in the region by the US and South Korea as an entree to direct negotiations?

At the same time, however, Tillerson opened the door for dialogue with Pyongyang on the condition that it stops testing long-range missiles.

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"The best signal that North Korea could give us that they're prepared to talk would be to stop these missile launches", Tillerson told reporters in Manila, Philippines.

"[There are] a number of security interests of mutual interests", said Tillerson, "a number of economic areas of interest and I look forward to discussing those today in our ministerial, both threats to all of us and our common response to that". That prompted South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha to correct him slightly. North Korea has tested missiles, including an ICBM, seven times since April. Those meetings have been suspended since 2008 when the parties failed to agree on how to examine Pyongyang's reports on its nuclear development. Even with new United Nations sanctions in place meant to drive Pyongyang back to the table, conditions still aren't ripe for talks, USA diplomats said.

The North said it will take an "action of justice", without elaborating.

Such an approach seems unlikely.

This is not the first time the United Nations has approved sanctions against North Korea because of its nuclear program; the first one was way back in 2006.

The warm welcome to Ri was surprising as Dutere had recently called the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a "fool" for fostering nuclear ambitions. "He has little flexibility in terms of. negotiations".

China accounts for 90 per cent of trade with North Korea, and Beijing's attitude to its volatile neighbour will be crucial to the success or failure of the new sanctions regime.

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Friday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said U.S. officials are also expected to address, with their Philippine counterparts, how to resolve the security situation in Marawi, by addressing the global threat of terrorism and increasing Philippine-U.S. economic and people-to-people engagement. "The president says this, while the state secretary says that", Yang said. Some experts believe the United States mainland is now in range of a North Korean military strike. Given North Korea's unremitting rhetoric, it could be a quick - though limited - nuclear war. Beijing praised Tillerson for declaring the US wasn't seeking regime change in North Korea.

Pyongyang's consultative council was formed to expressly deal with South Korea, according to South Korean news service Newsis.

Mr Tillerson, who held separate talks in Manila with foreign ministers Wang Yi of China and Sergei Lavrov of Russian Federation on Sunday, also sought to emphasise a united stance against the North.

"We must work together to fully implement the sanctions we imposed today and those imposed in past resolutions", she said.

In an objective, fair and responsible manner, China has made great efforts in dealing with the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, Wang said.

The statement came after a meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his North Korea counterpart Ri Yong Ho over the sanctions.

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