By Margaret Besheer August 26, 2016
North Korea’s latest missile launch Tuesday brought a swift convening of the U.N. Security Council, but no united condemnation from the 15 members.
Fired from a submarine, the missile flew toward Japan. It was the most recent in a string of tests and launches over the past few months in defiance of U.N. resolutions.
The United States and Japan requested an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday. Afterward, council President Ramlan bin Ibrahim of Malaysia said there was a “general sense of condemnation by most members,” but that there would be discussions about how to phrase a statement to reporters.
“This is the fourth time that an incident has occurred in recent times, and up until this point on [these] last four, something has not been agreed” to by the council, Britain’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Peter Wilson told reporters Thursday. “We want to see a press statement agreed.”
The main obstacle to council consensus has been China. Traditionally Pyongyang’s closest and most powerful ally, Beijing did express its frustration in March, supporting a new round of the toughest international sanctions on North Korea to date.
Since then, Pyongyang has launched more than a half-dozen missiles in defiance of the international community.
Charles Armstrong, Korean studies professor at Columbia University in New York, said the uptick in launches is due to the adoption of “[Resolution] 2270, then the THAAD deployment and then, generally, the North Koreans showing they can get away with it.”
THAAD, or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, is the advanced U.S. anti-missile system that is soon to be deployed in South Korea to defend against North Korean missile threats. It has both Pyongyang and Beijing on edge.
Armstrong said on a recent visit to the Chinese capital that he heard a lot of anti-THAAD talk from government officials and in the official media.
“The Chinese were completely obsessed with this,” he noted. “They really see THAAD as not directed against North Korea, but really a threat to China.”
Bill Brown, a former U.S. official and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington, said the Chinese are overreacting to THAAD.
“I think it is probably caught up in a bad U.S.-China atmosphere. They think we have provoked them in the South China Sea; we think they are being too aggressive in the South China Sea,” Brown said.
There is also the issue of the annual joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises involving thousands of air, ground, naval and special operations forces, further irritating the Chinese and North Koreans.
All of these factors have affected U.S.-Chinese cooperation on North Korea in the U.N. Security Council.
Brown said that it is a “delicate game” because the more noise the U.S. makes about the missile launches, the more some Chinese officials might think it’s in their interest to let Pyongyang antagonize the Americans.
He said Washington also tends to blame Beijing for sanctions failures and hope they will toughen their implementation of them – an unlikely prospect.
“China has different goals with respect to North Korea, some of which coincide with ours, but many of which do not,” Brown said.
But in the end, a loud Security Council condemnation is unlikely to change the situation in either direction.
“It is really about the enforcement of sanctions already on the books and whether that will move the situation in a positive direction,” Armstrong said.
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