China pivots to join US in UN resolution against North Korea

The Security Council will likely vote in the next week on a resolution condemning Pyongyang's recent rocket launch. The document already has the backing of North Korea's closest ally – China.

In this December 2012 file photo, North Korea's Unha-3 rocket lifts off from the Sohae launch pad in Tongchang-ri, North Korea. The US and China have agreed on a new UN resolution condemning North Korea's rocket launch in December that sent a satellite into orbit.

The United States and China have agreed on a new United Nations Security Council resolution condemning North Korea's rocket launch in December that sent a satellite into orbit.

A diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that the text of the draft resolution reiterates the council's previous demand that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program and not proceed with further launches.

The resolution would be the first in four years to expand the sanctions regime on North Korea. A vote on the resolution is expected this week, or at least before South Korea assumes the presidency of the Security Council on Feb. 1.

When asked whether the resolution might be adopted Tuesday, China's UN Ambassador Li Baodong said only "Don't know" as he entered a closed-door council briefing on Haiti.

China's agreement to join a resolution is a step away from the protection it usually gives to North Korea, its neighbor, which it defended in the Korean War in the early 1950s against United States-led UN troops.

China is seen as North Korea's closest ally, and its protection of North Korea meant that the Security Council previously denounced North Korea's launches with non-binding council statements, which are unenforceable.

North Korea sent a satellite into space on Dec. 12 aboard a long-range rocket, a launch that the US and its allies have criticized as a test of banned ballistic missile technology. In 2006 and 2009, Pyongyang conducted atomic tests after being slapped with Security Council condemnation and sanctions for similar launches of long-range rockets.

Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from any use of ballistic missile technology, even if characterized as a satellite launch or space launch vehicle.

The diplomat said the draft resolution imposes new sanctions under existing authorities on North Korean companies and government agencies, including North Korea's space agency and several individuals.

The resolution also updates lists of nuclear and ballistic missile technology banned for transfer to and from North Korea and includes several new provisions targeting North Korea's smuggling of sensitive items that could contribute to the prohibited programs.

The United States negotiated last week and over the weekend to get China to join the new resolution. Washington had to agree that the resolution would not bring in new forms of sanctions but would build on the existing Security Council sanction regimes.

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin has said Moscow is ready to support the new resolution. "I don't expect the UN Security Council members will have any serious problems" with the text, Mr. Churkin told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency.

It is believed that China may have been willing to join the new resolution because satellite surveillance has shown activity at North Korea's nuclear blast test sites suggesting another atomic test may be imminent.

North Korea vowed last week to strengthen its defenses amid concerns the country may conduct a nuclear test as a follow-up to last month's rocket launch.

Citing US hostility, Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry said in a memorandum that North Korea will "continue to strengthen its deterrence against all forms of war."

The memorandum carried by state media did not say what action North Korea would take to defend itself. However, North Korea has claimed the right to build atomic weapons to protect itself from the US, which stations more than 28,000 troops in South Korea.

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