China and Russia vetoed a U.N. resolution sponsored by the United States on Thursday that would have imposed tough new sanctions on North Korea for its spate of intercontinental ballistic missile launches that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons.
The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 13-2 and marked a first serious division among the five veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N.'s most powerful body on a North Korea sanctions resolution.
A united Security Council imposed sanctions after North Korea's first nuclear test explosion in 2006 and tightened them over the years seeking to rein in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and cut off funding.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield appealed for unity before Thursday's vote, calling North Korea's six ICBM tests this year “a threat to the entire international community.”
She stressed that in the last sanctions resolution adopted by the council in December 2017, members committed to further restricting petroleum exports to North Korea if it conducted a ballistic missile launch capable of reaching intercontinental ranges.
North Korea suspended ICBM tests for five years, but she urged the council to act against its “dangerous and threatening” ICBM launches in the last five months including one on Wednesday.
China's U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun reiterated Beijing's opposition to new sanctions against North Korea ahead of Thursday's vote.
He called instead for the United States to take “meaningful, practical actions” to resume its dialogue with the country and find a political solution to the situation on the Korean Peninsula, where the 1950-53 war between North Korea and South Korea stopped with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
With tensions on the peninsula, Zhang said, it's important to stay calm, avoid any provocative actions and “really give hope” to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- the country's official name -- by lifting some sanctions instead of imposing new ones.
“We do not think additional sanctions will be helpful in responding to the current situation,” he told reporters Thursday. “It can only get the situation even worse. … so that's what we really want to avoid.”
Alluding to the U.S. “pivot to Asia” reflecting the rise of China as an economic and military power and America's most significant competitor, Zhang said, “We do not want to see anyone make use of the DPRK situation or the Korean Peninsula situation as a card for their strategic or geopolitical agenda.”
“We are completely against any attempt to make northeastern Asia a battlefield or to create confrontations or tensions there. So, as a neighbor of DPRK and as a neighbor of the Korean Peninsula, we have our responsibility to maintain peace, security, and promote the denuclearization there. That's always our goal,” he said.
Wednesday's announcement of the vote and the U.S. release of the 14-page draft resolution came hours after South Korea reported that North Korea test-launched a suspected ICBM and two shorter-range missiles.
It also followed Tuesday's conclusion of U.S. President Joe Biden's Asia trip reinforcing the U.S. pivot that included stops in South Korea and Japan, where he reaffirmed America's commitment to defend both allies in the face of the North's nuclear threat.
Wednesday's launches were the 17th round of missile firings this year by the DPRK. Experts have said North Korea wants to move ahead with its push to expand its arsenal and apply more pressure on its rivals to wrest sanctions relief and other concessions.
The resolution voted on Thursday would have reduced exports of crude oil to North Korea from 4 million barrels a year to 3 million barrels, and exports of refined petroleum products from 500,000 barrels a year to 375,000 barrels. It would also have banned the North from exporting mineral fuels, mineral oils and mineral waxes.
In addition, the draft resolution would have banned the sale or transfer of all tobacco products to North Korea, tightened maritime sanctions, and banned the DPRK's export of clocks and watches and their parts.
The resolution would also have imposed a global asset freeze on the Lazarus Group, which was created by North Korea. It says Lazarus engages in “cyberespionage, data theft, monetary heists and destructive malware operations” against government, military, financial, manufacturing, publishing, media and entertainment institutions as well as shipping companies and critical infrastructure.
The measure would also have frozen the global assets of Korea Namgang Trading Corporation, which sends North Korean laborers overseas to generate income for the government. It would do the same for Haegumgang Trading Corporation, which it says has worked with a Mozambique company under a $6 million contract that includes surface-to-air missiles, air defense radar and portable air defense systems.
The proposed resolution would also have added one individual to the sanctions blacklist, Kim Su Il, who it says is the Vietnam-based representative of the Munitions Industry Department responsible for overseeing development of the North's ballistic missiles.