Beijing/Seoul — China said on Thursday it agreed the UN Security Council should take further actions against North Korea in the wake of its latest nuclear test, while continuing to push for more dialogue to resolve the crisis on the Korean peninsula.
The US wants the UN Security Council to impose an oil embargo on North Korea, ban its exports of textiles and the hiring of North Korean labourers abroad, and subject leader Kim Jong-un to an asset freeze and travel ban, according to a draft resolution seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
Pressure from Washington has ratcheted up since North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sunday. That test, along with a series of missile launches, showed Pyongyang was close to achieving its goal of developing a powerful nuclear weapon that could reach the US.
US President Donald Trump has urged China to do more to rein in its neighbour, which has pursued its weapons programmes in defiance of UN sanctions and international condemnation.
China said on Thursday it hoped North Korea would refrain from further challenging the international consensus.
"Given the new developments on the Korean peninsula, China agrees that the UN Security Council should make a further response and take necessary measures," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters, without elaborating.
"Any new actions taken by the international community against the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] should serve the purpose of curbing the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programmes, while at the same time be conducive to restarting dialogue and consultation," he said.
China is by far North Korea’s biggest trading partner, accounting for 92% of two-way trade last year. It also provides tonnes of oil and fuel to the impoverished regime.
US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he had an executive order ready for Trump to sign that would impose sanctions on any country that trades with Pyongyang if the UN does not put additional sanctions on North Korea.
Amid the rising tension, Seoul installed the four remaining launchers of the US anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system on a former golf course in the south early on Thursday. Two launchers had already been deployed.
More than 30 people were wounded when about 8,000 South Korean police broke up a blockade of about 300 villagers and civic groups opposed to the Thaad system deployment, fire officials said.
"It is very unfortunate there some wounded, but it was an inevitable choice in order to protect the lives of the people in this situation made serious by North Korea’s recent nuclear test," South Korean Interior and Safety Minister Kim Boo-kyum told reporters.
The decision to deploy the Thaad system has drawn strong objections from China, which believes its radar could be used to look deeply into its territory and will upset the regional security balance.
China said it had lodged another stern protest over the Thaad deployment on Thursday.
"We again urge South Korea and the US to take seriously China’s and regional nations’ security interests and concerns, stop the relevant deployment progress, and remove the relevant equipment," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular media briefing.
"China has already lodged stern representations with South Korea over this," he said.
"It will only severely undermine the strategic balance in the region, jeopardise strategic and security interests of the regional countries, including China, aggravate the tension and confrontation, and further complicate the Peninsular issue."
On coming to power in May, President Moon Jae-in opposed the early installation of the shield. But North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches in July prompted him to order his government to discuss deployment of the four remaining launchers at the Seongju military base, 220km southeast of Seoul.
Moon and Abe meet
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke at a regional meeting in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok and agreed to try to persuade China and Russia to cut off oil to North Korea as much as possible, according to South Korean officials.
The EU’s foreign and defence ministers would discuss further sanctions for North Korea on Thursday, the bloc’s top diplomat said ahead of an EU ministers’ meeting in the Estonian capital.
However, sanctions have so far done little to stop North Korea boosting its nuclear and missile capacity as it faces off with Trump.
China and Russia have advocated a "freeze for freeze" plan, where the US and South Korea would stop major military exercises in exchange for North Korea halting its weapons programmes, but neither side appears willing to budge.
South Korean Marines wrapped up a three-day firing drill on Thursday aimed at protecting its islands just south of the border with North Korea, while the air force will finish up a week-long drill on Friday.
North Korea says it needs to develop its weapons to defend itself against what it sees as US aggression.
Meanwhile, North Korea held a mass celebration for the scientists involved in carrying out its the nuclear blast, with fireworks and a mass rally in Pyongyang.
Citizens of the capital lined the streets on Wednesday to wave pink and purple pom-poms and cheer a convoy of buses carrying the specialists into the city, and toss confetti over them as they walked into Kim Il-sung Square.
"We offer the greatest honour to Comrade Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader who brought us the greatest achievement in the history of the Korean people," read one banner in the plaza, where tens of thousands of people were gathered.
Another, with a picture of a missile on a caterpillar-tracked transporter, proclaimed: "No-one can stop us on our road to the future."
Reuters, Bloomberg and AFP