The Foreign Ministry has stressed that it "totally rejects" the recent UN Security Council sanctions. They merely strengthen its status as a state which has nuclear weapons and launches satellites. The sanctions which the United Nations has "cooked up" over the past eight years have led to the DPRK strengthening "its nuclear deterrent means both quantitatively and qualitatively."
The nuclear payload during the test conducted in February was the largest by comparison with the previous two tests. But the specialists who monitor the tests abroad have not been able to confirm that the DPRK has, as it claims, successfully detonated a miniature device. Expert opinion is split over whether the North Koreans are capable of installing a nuclear warhead on a missile. At the same time there is consensus that it will be years before they create a real ICBM, the AFP agency reports.
Irrespective of the rhetoric to which North Korea resorts, can the recent sanctions influence it? That is the question we put to Aleksandr Vorontsov, head of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies' Korea and Mongolia section. "These sanctions are quite serious. But it all depends on how states interpret and implement these sanctions. For instance, it is envisaged that a North Korean vessel will be denied entry to a foreign port if it refuses to be inspected. And an inspection is carried out if there is a suspicion the vessel is carrying banned freight. There is a similar situation with regard to aircraft. They can be refused landing permission. Financial transactions are banned, once again if there is a suspicion they are related to the nuclear missile program," the expert said. If all countries interpret to the letter the decisions adopted by the Security Council, then the consequences for the DPRK could be grave. But states interpret them in different ways. In the West there are figures who want to stifle the DPRK economically. For instance, Susan Rice, the US UN representative, has said that its population will become even poorer. That is, the sanctions are supposed to hit the population.
Russia and China disagree with this approach. They say the sanctions should not be aimed at destroying the civilian sector of the economy. "In this complex situation, Russia could play its role. You cannot resolve the problem through sanctions alone. Moscow advocates the resumption of multilateral negotiations, inter-Korean negotiations, and negotiations between the United States and the DPRK. Russia has long-standing experience of communicating with North Korea. Special relations have formed between our countries. In my view, Moscow could play the part of mediator in such contacts," the expert concluded.
Last Saturday (9 March) China also advocated the quest for a diplomatic settlement. Although it supported the new measures, China said that the sanctions "are not a fundamental path toward resolving the crisis." The sides must "behave in a restrained manner and avoid actions which could cause the escalation of tension."
There is no doubt as to whom this warning is primarily addressed. After all, South Korea and the United States are beginning military exercises next week. Any incident on the border could develop into clashes. Especially as the DPRK's decision to break the agreement on the peaceful solution of disputed problems with South Korea comes into force today.
At the same time debates are under way in China about whether there is any point in continuing to support North Korea. The New York Times writes that Pyongyang has "worn down" Beijing. At the current session of the People's Political Consultative Conference (an advisory body in which various parties are represented) several delegates have been discussing whether it is worth supporting the DPRK or whether it is better to "jettison" it. It is characteristic that the press was informed of these unusual debates by none other than Qiu Yangping, deputy director of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee foreign policy department.
Nevertheless, China does not intend to reinforce the UN sanctions with its own reprisals. The biggest element of Chinese exports to the DPRK is oil. And Chinese companies import iron ore and coal. These deliveries will not be broken off, Cai Jian, director (as published) of the Korean studies department at Shanghai's Fudan University, predicts.