MANILA: The United States and China piled new pressure on North Korea Sunday to abandon its nuclear missile program after the UN Security Council approved tough new sanctions which could cost Pyongyang $1 billion a year.
One day after Council members voted unanimously for a partial ban on exports aimed at slashing Pyongyang’s foreign revenue by a third, top diplomats from the key powers in the dispute met in Manila.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was encouraged by the vote, but officials warned that Washington would closely watch China — North Korea’s biggest trade partner — to ensure sanctions are enforced.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his North Korean counterpart Ri Hong-Yo before a major regional security forum being hosted by the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
He urged the North to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
“It will help the DPRK to make the right and smart decision,” Wang told reporters, speaking through a translator, after talks with Ri — referring to the sanctions and to Ri’s presence in Manila.
Pyongyang’s top envoy has so far avoided the media in Manila.
But in a characteristically fiery editorial before the latest sanctions were approved, the North’s ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun warned against US aggression.
“The day the US dares tease our nation with a nuclear rod and sanctions, the mainland US will be catapulted into an unimaginable sea of fire,” it said.
Tillerson was due to meet Wang and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later on Sunday, seeking to intensify Kim Jong-Un’s diplomatic isolation and reduce the risk of renewed conflict.
“It was a good outcome,” Tillerson said of the UN vote, before a meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-Wha.
Senior US envoy Susan Thornton said Washington was “still going to be watchful” on the implementation of sanctions, cautioning that previous votes had been followed by China “slipping back.”
But she added China’s support for the UN resolution “shows that they realize that this is a huge problem that they need to take on.”
The urgency of the situation was underlined by President Donald Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who told MSNBC news that the US leader was reviewing plans for a “preventive war.”
“He said he’s not going to tolerate North Korea being able to threaten the United States,” McMaster said.
“It’s intolerable from the president’s perspective. So of course, we have to provide all options to do that. And that includes a military option.”
Saturday’s UN resolution banned exports of coal, iron and iron ore, lead and lead ore as well as fish and seafood by the cash-starved state.
If fully implemented it would strip North Korea of a third of its export earnings — estimated to total $3 billion per year despite successive rounds of sanctions since the North’s first nuclear test in 2006.
The Philippines, this year’s chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), backed the UN decision to impose tougher sanctions against North Korea.
“The Philippines has been consistent in its support for the various UN Security Council resolutions,” said Foreign Affairs Secretary Robespierre Bolivar.
Foreign ministers of Asean member states released a statement urging Pyongyang to stop its nuclear program and comply immediately and fully with its obligations under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Diplomats of the regional bloc voiced their grave concerns over the escalation of tensions in the Korean peninsula caused in part by Pyongyang’s recent missile tests.
“These developments seriously threaten peace, security and stability in the region and the world. In this regard, we strongly urge the DPRK (North Korea) to immediately comply fully with its obligations under all relevant UN Security Council Resolutions,” the foreign ministers said in a statement.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho will be attending the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) ministerial meeting Monday that will also be attended by US Secretary of States Rex Tillerson.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Ri held bilateral talks on Sunday.