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China urges ‘flexibility’ over N Korea launches amid US rebuke

China’s UN ambassador has called on the United States to be more flexible in its dealings with North Korea, as Beijing joined others to scrap a US-drafted Security Council joint statement condemning Pyongyang’s recent missile launches, according to diplomats.

Washington had proposed a statement decrying those launches, but China and Russia, along with other nations, refused to sign on to it, the diplomats told the AFP news agency on Friday.

“If they do want to see some new breakthrough, they should show more sincerity and flexibility,” China’s ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, said of US officials ahead of a closed-door meeting convened at Washington’s request on North Korea.

“They should come up with more attractive and more practical, more flexible approaches, policies and actions and accommodating the concerns of the DPRK,” Zhang told reporters, using the initials of the North’s official name.

“What I see is the key in solving this issue is already in the hands of the United States.”

Kim Jong Un’s regime conducted an unprecedented seven weapons tests in January, including launching its most powerful missile since 2017, as it hinted it could restart long-range and nuclear testing.

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The Chinese official noted that as a result of former US President Donald Trump’s policy on North Korea, Pyongyang had suspended nuclear tests and international ballistic missile launches.

However, in recent months, Zhang lamented, “we have seen a vicious circle of confrontation, condemnation, sanctions”.

China and Russia have been blocking UN Security Council action on North Korea, and last year proposed a resolution that would ease sanctions on Pyongyang on humanitarian grounds, but the draft has not been put to a vote due to lack of support.

“At least we are doing something to facilitate further improvement and avoiding the escalation of the tension,” Zhang said.

‘Rewarding bad behaviour’

After the meeting, the US envoy to the world body, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the Chinese-Russian proposal to ease sanctions would effectively reward North Korea for what she called “bad behaviour”.

“There’s no reason for this Council to reward them for nine tests in one month and almost as many in the previous years,” she told reporters.

“To spend millions of dollars on military tests when your people are starving indicates that this country does not care about its own people.”

Friday’s meeting on North Korea was the third in the space of a month.

People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test.People in South Korea watch a television screen showing a news broadcast with file footage of another North Korean missile test in late January [Jung Yeon-je/AFP]

In the last one, on January 20, eight Council members – Albania, Brazil, the United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Norway, the United Arab Emirates and the United States – along with Japan released a joint statement condemning the North’s tests.

The other seven Council members – China, Gabon, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico and Russia – refused to sign on.

On Friday, those same eight countries and Japan, again led by Washington, issued a new statement reiterating a call for North Korea to “cease its destabilising actions and return to dialogue”.

“We continue to urge the DPRK to respond positively to the offers from the United States and others to meet without preconditions,” it said.

The statement also called out the other members of the Security Council, saying the “cost of the Council’s ongoing silence is too high”.

North Korea on Friday sent “warm congratulations” to its Chinese ally for the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, a message that experts consider a likely signal for a halt to missile tests during the sporting event.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to hold trilateral talks on the issue in Hawaii on February 12 with South Korea and Japan.

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