China and Russia have delayed a US effort at the United Nations to impose sanctions on five North Koreans in response to recent missile launches by Pyongyang, diplomats said.
The move by Beijing and Moscow came before a closed-door UN Security Council meeting on North Korea on Thursday – the second in two weeks – after Pyongyang fired tactical guided missiles this week.
China and Russia, however, placed a “hold” on the United States’s proposal on Thursday, which puts it in limbo.
China told council colleagues it needed more time to study the sanctions, while Russia said more evidence was needed to back the US request, the diplomats said.
Under current UN rules, the block period can last for six months. After that, another council member can extend the block for three more months, before the proposal is permanently removed from the negotiating table.
Monday’s test was North Korea’s fourth so far this year, with two previous launches involving “hypersonic missiles” capable of high speed and manoeuvring after liftoff, and another test last Friday using a pair of short-range missiles fired from train cars.
The US last week imposed unilateral sanctions over the missile launches. It blacklisted five North Koreans, one Russian and a Russian firm, accusing them of procuring goods for the programmes from Russia and China.
It then proposed five of those individuals also be subjected to a UN travel ban and asset freeze. The request had to be agreed by consensus by the Security Council’s 15-member North Korea sanctions committee.
The US Treasury Department said on January 12 that one of the North Koreans being sanctioned, Choe Myong Hyon, was based in Russia and had provided support to North Korea’s Second Academy of Natural Sciences (SANS), which is already subject to sanctions.
Also targeted were four China-based North Korean representatives of SANS-subordinate organisations, the Treasury Department said: Sim Kwang Sok, Kim Song Hun, Kang Chol Hak, and Pyon Kwang Chol.
Nuclear-armed Pyongyang is banned from testing ballistic weapons by the UN, but denuclearisation talks have been stalled since 2019 when a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-US President Donald Trump collapsed over North Korea’s demands for sanctions relief.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has sought unsuccessfully to re-engage Pyongyang in dialogue to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons and missiles.
But Kim has refused new talks with the US and warned North Korea would restart weapons development activities it had previously paused.
The North Korean leader, who took power 10 years ago, has sought to modernise the military and says more advanced weapons are necessary for the country’s self-defence.
The powerful politburo of North Korea’s ruling party, presided over by leader Kim, said during a meeting on Wednesday that it would reconsider resuming “all temporarily suspended” nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests in light of “hostile” US actions.
The country’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper quoted politburo members saying they were looking to “examine the issue on resuming all actions, which had been temporarily suspended”, in an apparent reference to a self-imposed moratorium on the testing of nuclear weapons and ICBMs that began in 2017.
“We should make more thorough preparation for a long-term confrontation with the US imperialists,” the politburo concluded.
North Korea is expected to come up during virtual talks on Friday between Biden and Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Daniel Russel, a former US diplomat for Asia who is now with the Asia Society Policy Institute, said the Biden-Kishida meeting showed Washington and Tokyo were on the same wavelength.
“We should expect their discussion to focus on practical measures to deter and defend against destabilising behaviour, whether from North Korea or in hot spots like the Taiwan Strait and the South and East China Seas,” he said.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Japanese counterpart Akiba Takeo set the agenda on Thursday when they spoke about their respective approaches to North Korea, China and economic issues in the Indo-Pacific, the White House said.