China Critical of U.N. Draft on N. Korea

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 12, 2006

BEIJING, July 11 -- China said Tuesday that a draft U.N. resolution on North Korea backed by the United States was an "overreaction" to the country's recent missile tests and that the proposed sanctions would likely complicate efforts to restart negotiations on Pyongyang's nuclear program.

The declaration, read by a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, suggested that Chinese officials believe the best way to deflate tensions in the region is to get North Korea to return to six-party talks on nuclear disarmament, regardless of whether the Stalinist nation pledges to refrain from further missile testing.

"China is opposed to the draft resolution . . . because that resolution is an overreaction," said the spokeswoman, Jiang Yi. "We think the response should not be an overreaction that would further intensify the problem. We think all measures should be conducive to resolution of the situation through dialogue."

At the United Nations, British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said a member of the Security Council had indicated that any vote on the North Korea resolution would "not have produced an outcome," suggesting a veto was likely. Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, identified the member as China.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, the Bush administration's top envoy to the six-party talks, consulted in Beijing with Chinese officials about a current mission to North Korea by senior Chinese diplomats. Hill and other U.S. officials have said they hope China will use its leverage to persuade North Korea to return to negotiations.

"Obviously, we are in a rather crucial period," Hill told reporters in Beijing.

The United States was particularly keen to see progress from the Chinese mission because Beijing, arguing the need for dialogue, has objected to the tough Security Council resolution proposed by Japan and supported by the United States, Britain and France. In its place, China proposed a council statement -- without the force of law or threat of sanctions -- that would urge countries to voluntarily impose a ban on trade in ballistic missiles and other technology to North Korea that could be used to produce nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction.

The Chinese ambassador at the United Nations, Wang Guangya, expressed concern that the resolution proposed by Japan could be used as a legal basis for military action against North Korea. In Beijing, Jiang stressed the need to maintain an atmosphere conducive to resumption of the Chinese-sponsored six-party nuclear talks, which have been stalled since September.

Without specifically mentioning North Korea's July 4 missile tests, Chinese President Hu Jinato on Tuesday voiced opposition to "any action that may worsen the situation in the Korean Peninsula," the official New China News Agency reported.

The Bush administration and its allies said they would not push for adoption of the U.N. resolution for the time being to give China's diplomacy a chance to work. As a result, Beijing found itself center stage in a widely watched effort to wheedle cooperation out of Kim Jong Il, the unpredictable North Korean leader, and Hill's return to Beijing strengthened that impression.

The starring role was not one Chinese officials relish. Although China is North Korea's chief ally and main oil supplier, its attempts to shepherd Kim into abolishing his nuclear weapons program have so far been unsuccessful. Jiang said she knew of no decision to pressure Kim into more cooperation now, such as holding back oil or food supplies.

The six-party talks, which China has sponsored since August 2003, have been suspended for nine months because North Korea refuses to return to the table, citing U.S. steps to halt distribution of counterfeit dollars by North Korean banks. The missile crisis has now been added to the mix, making the effort to cajole Kim into returning to the talks even more daunting.

Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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