China urges N.Korea to halt tests; Kim threatens to ‘end USA’

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (right) and North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho pose for the mandatory photo op before heading into private talks in Manila on Sunday. (AP photo)

MANILA – A global pressure campaign on North Korea propelled by sharp new UN sanctions received a welcome boost Sunday from China, the North’s economic lifeline, as Beijing called on its neighbour to halt its missile and nuclear tests.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said North Korea’s position on developing nuclear arms remained unchanged after the UN Security Council imposed tougher sanctions on it, described by US President Donald Trump as having a “big financial impact!”

After talks with his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho, Mr Wang told reporters the Pyongyang envoy merely reiterated Pyongyang’s position on the nuclear issue.

“I don’t think that really matters much,” Wang said when asked what he thought of the North Korean foreign minister’s reaffirmation of the stance.

Rather, he said, it was more meaningful for Ri to have the chance to listen to the views of others that might influence North Korea to make the right decision in the future.

In Pyongyang Sunday, state-controlled media of the Kim Jong Un regime slammed America’s recent decision to fly two supersonic bombers over the Korean Peninsula as a “hysteric fit” and warned against such “provocations”.

North Korea’s KCNA news agency said: “The day the DPRK is provoked means the end of the US.”

North Korean envoy Ri hasn’t spoken publicly since arriving in the Philippines. But a commentary in the Pyongyang regime’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Washington had disregarded the warning the North sent with its intercontinental ballistic missile tests and was pursuing “desperate efforts” in the form of stepped-up sanctions.

“Now the US mainland is on the crossroads of life and death,” the commentary warned.

The Trump administration cautiously embraced China’s apparent newfound cooperation, while putting it on notice that the US would be watching closely to ensure it didn’t ease up on Pyongyang if and when the world’s attention is diverted elsewhere.

But there were no signs the US would acquiesce to China’s call for a quick return to negotiations.

In Manila, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has skipped a dinner in the Philippines for foreign ministers that North Korea’s top diplomat attended.

According to Tillerson’s public schedule, he was due to attend the dinner at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations gathering in Manila.

Tillerson aide RC Hammond says that after a productive first day, Tillerson has taken time to prepare for Day 2.

Representing the United States at the dinner was Susan Thornton _ acting assistant secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs.

The diplomatic wrangling sought to build on the sweeping new North Korea sanctions passed by the UN Security Council a day earlier — the strongest in a generation, the US said.

As diplomats gathered in the Philippines for Monday’s annual Asean Regional Forum (ARF) meeting, President Donald Trump was cheering the move from afar. In a pair of tweets, he touted the “very big financial impact” of the sanctions and noted optimistically that both China and Russia had joined in the unanimous vote.

“It was a good outcome,” Tillerson said in characteristically understated fashion as he met with South Korea’s top diplomat.

For the US, it was a long-awaited sign of progress for Trump’s strategy of trying to enlist Beijing’s help to squeeze Pyongyang diplomatically and economically. 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 UN vote.

“Do not violate the UN’s decision or provoke international society’s goodwill by conducting missile launching or nuclear tests,” Wang said, in an unusually direct admonition.

Though Beijing repeated its call for the United States and North Korea to resume talks, the US said that was still premature, and rejected yet again a Chinese call for the US to freeze joint military exercises with South Korea in exchange for the North halting nuclear development. Pyongyang views the military exercises as rehearsals for an invasion.

The US also warned it planned to rigorously monitor China’s compliance with the new penalties. Susan Thornton, the top US diplomat for Asia, said Beijing had historically cooperated with sanctions after flagrant North Korean violations but then slipped back over time.

“We want to make sure China is continuing to implement fully the sanctions regime,” Thornton told reporters in Manila. “Not this kind of episodic back and forth that we’ve seen.”

Infusing the diplomatic gathering with dramatic intrigue was the presence of Ri, the North Korean foreign minister and odd man out at a meeting Monday that will be dominated by concerns about his nation’s nuclear proliferation. Indeed, the US was floating a proposal to temporarily kick North Korea out of the 27-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum, although other member nations are divided about that idea.

The new sanctions could cut off roughly one-third of North Korea’s estimated $3 billion in annual exports, ostensibly denying the nation of funds for its weapons programs. All countries are now banned from importing North Korean coal, iron, lead and seafood products, and from letting in more North Korean labourers whose remittances help fund Kim Jong Un’s regime.

The US drafted the sanctions resolution and negotiated it with China following North Korea’s unprecedented test of an ICBM in July and a follow-up test weeks later. Those tests sharply escalated US fears that Pyongyang is a key step closer to mastering the technology needed to strike American soil with a nuclear-tipped missile.

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