China and Russia’s reluctance to toughen UN sanctions on North Korea is “the biggest challenge” facing international efforts to eliminate the North’s nuclear arsenal, a top South Korean official said Thursday.
The North remains ready to conduct its first nuclear test in five years that is banned by UN resolutions.
Beijing and Moscow, which both have close ties with North Korea and are locked in confrontations with the United States, already vetoed US-led attempts to slap fresh sanctions on North Korea over its missile tests year.
That raises worries that North Korea would escape punitive measures even if it performs bigger provocation like a nuclear test explosion.
“Even though North Korea conducts an additional nuclear test, there is a possibility that no additional sanctions would be adopted at the UN Security Council because of a US-China strategic rivalry and a US-Russia tension over the Ukraine war,” South Korea’s Vice Defense Minister, Shin Beomchul, told The Associated Press during an interview.
“I think that is the biggest challenge to (resolving) the North Korean nuclear problem and an international anti-proliferation regime.”
Shin sat down for the interview ahead of next week’s South Korea-hosted annual security forum that is to focus on international cooperation on how to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization and other regional issues.
The September 6 to 8 event, the first in-person gathering since 2019, is to draw senior defense officials and experts from more than 50 countries.
North Korea has never participated in the Seoul Defense Dialogue since it was launched in 2012.
The forum comes four months after South Korea’s new conservative government, led by President Yoon Suk Yeol, took office with a vow to take firmer steps on North Korean provocation in conjunction with boosted military alliance with the United States.
Shin said the Seoul forum is designed to expand South Korea’s diplomatic capacity in the face of a mix of complex regional security issues.
“If we can have (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) believe that China and Russia would stop backing North Korea and reverse their positions and switch to additional sanctions when North Korea conducts an additional nuclear test and continues to launch an ICBM, I think North Korea can return to talks at any time,” Shin said.
Subsequently, he said South Korea must increase its diplomatic efforts to persuade China and Russia to speak with one voice with other countries on the North’s nuclear program.
Shin said China “holds the biggest key” to North Korean denuclearization, given the North’s economic dependence to it.