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Tillerson calls out China and Russia over North Korea ties

December 15, 2017

The White House and Tillerson had differing accounts of which country was being helpful on North Korea. Meanwhile North Korea's UN ambassador has insisted its nuclear ambitions were in self-defense against the US.

Tillerson listens at the UN Security Council
Image: Getty Images/AFP/E. M. Alvarez

Tillerson calls out China and Russia over North Korea

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday urged Russia and China to reconsider their economic ties to the North Korean regime during a heated speech before the United Nations Security Council. 

His outburst suggested that the sanctions imposed on Pyongyang by the UN were not doing enough to convince the Kim regime to halt its nuclear weapons program or seek negotiations, and that more economic restrictions imposed by individual states were needed.

His words came the same day that US President Donald Trump told reporters that while China was a helpful partner in the nuclear standoff with North Korea, Russia was not. 

"China is helping. Russia is not helping. We would like to have Russia's help," the president said from the White House. He had discussed the North Korea situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday via phone.

Rex Tillerson speaks to media at the UN
Tillerson denied any policy discrepencies between himself and his boss when asked about the subjectImage: Getty Images/AFP/E. M. Alvarez

The US policy towards North Korea has fluctuated in the past week, with differences between Tillerson and Trump over the potential for direct talks with Pyongyang at the forefront.

The secretary of state denied any policy discrepancies between himself and the president. "The president's policy on North Korea is quite clear and there's no daylight at all between the president's policy and the pursuit of that policy," he said on Friday.

US backtracks on its offer for unconditional talks

But Tillerson's speech before the UN security council meeting marked a significant departmental reversal, after he had earlier this week proposed holding discussions with Pyongyang without preconditions. The White House had rebutted his statement in the immediate aftermath.

At the UN Tillerson had been expected to call on the rogue regime only to halt its missile tests before talks could begin. Instead, he changed the script, telling an audience of foreign ministers that, "North Korea must earn its way back to the table."

"The pressure campaign must and will continue until denuclearization is achieved. We will in the meantime keep our channels of communication open," Tillerson said.

China and Russia not helping

Tillerson upbraided China and Russia for failing to put enough economic pressure on North Korea. He called out Beijing for continuing to allow crude oil to "flow" into the repressive state, adding that such ongoing trade ties between the two countries undermined international efforts to get the North to denuclearize.

Read more: Russia 'increasing oil exports' to North Korea

The top US diplomat also accused Russia of propping up the repressive regime of Kim Jong-Un by using North Korean laborers. Continuing to allow North Korean nationals to toil in "slave-like conditions" for wages used to fund nuclear weapons "calls into question Russia's dedication as a partner for peace," Tillerson said.

Fall in China trade with North Korea suggests sanctions working

Tillerson also called on countries that have not implemented sanctions to "consider your interests, allegiances and values in the face of this grave threat."

Japan levies new sanctions on North Korea ahead of UN meeting

Japan announced on Friday that it is expanding its list of sanctions against North Korea, targeting financial services and commodities trading. The list of organizations and people targeted by asset-freezes now includes over 200 entities and individuals, including several from China.

Tokyo's new measures also target the highly controversial practice of sending North Koreans abroad to work on manual labor projects.

Read more: Japan to purchase offensive missiles capable of striking North Korea

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in an address to media executives in Tokyo that he was certain the sanctions were having an effect.

"It is possible that we will see further provocations. But what's important is that we do not bow to these threats. The international community must continue to coordinate and apply pressure until North Korea changes its policies and seeks negotiations," Abe said.

Flexing its nuclear muscles

North Korea's UN Ambassador Ja Song Nam listens during a meeting of the UN Security Council
Pyongyang's UN Ambassaor Ja Song Nam accused the US of 'blackmail'Image: Reuters/S. Keith

In a rare appearance before the UN Security Council, North Korea Ambassador Ja Song Nam did not mention possible talks with Americans. He argued that his country's nuclear ambitions were self-defense against the US.

North Korea is "a responsible nuclear power and a peace-loving state," he said, without mentioning any intent to pause nuclear and missile tests. 

Read more: UN official says North Koreans agree on importance of avoiding war

The isolated nation has conducted six increasingly powerful atomic tests since 2006 — most recently in September when it supposedly detonated a hydrogen bomb.

Since the beginning of 2017, Pyongyang had conducted missiles tests at a rate of almost two to three per month but paused in September after it successfully fired a missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido and into the Pacific Ocean. At the end of November it then suddenly tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile that experts say can fly over 13,000 kilometers.

cmb, dm/aw (AP, AFP)