UNITED NATIONS (AP) — China’s U.N. ambassador said Monday that North Korea is suffering “negatively” from the coronavirus and called for greater flexibility from the United States and other countries on lifting sanctions against the country.
Zhang Jun told a news conference a draft resolution proposed by Russia and China in December that would terminate sanctions on North Korean exports such as textiles, seafood and statues is still on the table — and “we do hope that all parties should give a second thought on this issue.”
He spoke following North Korea’s firing of two presumed short-range ballistic missiles into its eastern sea earlier Monday, according to South Korean officials, resuming weapons launches after a months-long hiatus that may have been forced by the coronavirus crisis in Asia.
Zhang said U.N. sanctions are having “a lot of humanitarian impact on ordinary people” in North Korea, “so we should do whatever we can to lessen, to diminish the negative impact on that,” which is why Russia and China have called for the lifting of some sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country’s official name.
“Especially nowadays, you know many countries are also being affected negatively by COVID-19 (virus) including DPRK,” the Chinese ambassador said. “So we do think we should take all the things into consideration in finding a comprehensive solution to the issue relating to DPRK.”
Asked how the DPRK was being affected by the virus, Zhang said, “We know that they are also attaching great importance, and taking preventive methods, and they are also doing whatever they can in fighting this virus.” But being in New York, he said, he didn’t have sufficient information on the exact situation in the DPRK.
The recent lull in North Korea’s launches had experts wondering whether the North was holding back its weapons displays while it was fighting the coronavirus, which state media has described as a matter of “national existence.” Some analysts speculated that the North cut back training and other activities involving large gatherings of soldiers to reduce the possibility of the virus spreading within its military.
Kim Jong Un had entered the new year vowing to bolster his nuclear deterrent in the face of “gangster-like” U.S. sanctions and pressure, using a key ruling party meeting in late December to warn of “shocking” action over stalled nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.
Kim and President Donald Trump have met three times since embarking on their high-stakes nuclear diplomacy in 2018, but negotiations have faltered since their second summit in February last year in Vietnam, where the Americans rejected North Korean demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capability.
Following the collapse in Hanoi, the North ended a 17-month pause in ballistic activity and conducted at least 13 rounds of weapons launches last year, using the standstill in talks to expand its military capabilities.
Zhang stressed the importance of the United States and the DPRK resuming dialogue and seeking a solution to the North’s nuclear program.
“It’s our position that parties concerned really need to show more flexibilities in building up mutual trust, in seeking solutions through dialogue, and especially in realizing the final goals of denuclearization and a lasting peace in the Korean peninsula,” he said. “Sanctions is only a means in realizing our goals. So while we have seen some progress from one side, we also need to show flexibilities from the other side.”
Zhang said that’s why China and Russia introduced their resolution.
It has languished in the Security Council because the U.S., its Western allies and other members want to see DPRK actions toward denuclearization before lifting any sanctions.