China Says It Will Back Sanctions On N. Korea

Kenzo Oshima, Japan's U.N. ambassador, speaks to reporters after the Security Council meeting. The United States and Japan are urging the council to support strong economic and trade sanctions against North Korea.
Kenzo Oshima, Japan's U.N. ambassador, speaks to reporters after the Security Council meeting. The United States and Japan are urging the council to support strong economic and trade sanctions against North Korea. (By Mario Tama -- Getty Images)
By Colum Lynch and Maureen Fan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 10 -- China on Tuesday expressed a rare willingness to support U.N. sanctions against its ally North Korea, but it said any punitive action would have to be narrowly targeted at the country's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

The United States and Japan continued to press the U.N. Security Council to support far stronger economic and trade measures that would permit international inspections of all North Korean cargo to search for weapons and to strangle Pyongyang's ability to finance its nuclear program.

Varied responses to the nuclear test that North Korea apparently conducted early Monday emerged as the Bush administration sought to assuage fresh worries by its foreign counterparts that the tough strategy may cause hardship for the country's impoverished population or topple the government. France, for instance, voiced concern that a Japanese proposal to ban all North Korean exports could fuel a humanitarian crisis.

John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, insisted that the U.S. sanctions plan calls for the exemption of food, medicine and other humanitarian goods for civilians. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, meanwhile, specifically ruled out any attempt at regime change. "We have made it very clear that the United States has no intention to attack North Korea. That element of our policy still stands," he told reporters. "What we have sought is a change in the behavior of the North Korean regime."

China's tougher stance against North Korea came as officials in Beijing faced criticism at home over their diplomatic strategy, which relies primarily on the now-stalled six-nation talks to contain North Korea's nuclear program.

The talks have been "a total failure," said Zhang Liankui, a professor at the influential Central Party School's Institute for International Strategic Studies. "North Korea's reaction is a challenge to the whole world. Every country should have a clear and definite attitude, including China.

"If peaceful means can't stop North Korea from conducting a nuclear test, then there should be other means," Zhang added. "The appeasement policy was very popular in the international community, and I think that's very dangerous. Within 10 years, people will suffer from this attitude."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao acknowledged that North Korea's action "will undoubtedly exert negative impact" on the two countries' relations. But he said the six-party talks remain "the best and practical way and effective way to resolve this issue, so I don't think it's a failure of China's diplomacy."

Still, Wang Guangya, China's U.N. ambassador, conceded that the council would have to impose "some punitive actions" on Pyongyang to persuade it to heed international demands. He added, however, that "these actions have to be appropriate" and "more specifically targeted toward the nuclear- and missile-related areas."

U.S. officials welcomed China's willingness to consider punishing a traditional ally and a neighbor that it has shielded from international pressure for decades. White House spokesman Tony Snow said China's announcement suggested that North Korea's ability to use "bluff and bravado" to obtain concessions may have ended.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told CNN that "I've never seen universal condemnation of the kind that North Korea is now facing, and condemnation, by the way, not just from the United States and Europe and Japan but from its closest supporters, those who are the ones who give them assistance."

The United States has told the North Koreans "that there is no intention to invade or attack them," Rice added. "So they have that guarantee." The president "never takes any of his options off the table," she said. "But the United States, somehow, in a provocative way, trying to invade North Korea? It's just not the case."

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