China and Russia on Thursday vetoed a US-led bid at the United Nations to toughen sanctions on North Korea over its missile launches, laying bare divisions that Western envoys fear would be exploited by Pyongyang.
The Security Council resolution put forward by the United States would have reduced the amount of oil North Korea could legally import as punishment for a test Wednesday of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The resolution enjoyed the support of the 13 other members of the Security Council, although some US allies quietly wondered whether Washington should have gone ahead with the vote knowing the unflinching opposition from Beijing and Moscow.
China and Russia said they would have preferred a non-binding statement rather than a fresh resolution with teeth against Pyongyang.
The United States “should not place one-sided emphasis on the implementation of sanctions alone. It should also work to promote a political solution,” said China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun.
He warned that sanctions would cause an “escalation” and humanitarian consequences for North Korea, one of the world’s most closed societies, which recently announced a Covid outbreak.
Zhang alleged that the United States wanted the resolution to fail so as to “spread the flames of war” as part of its wider effort to pressure China.
“The crux of the matter,” he said, “is whether they want to use the handling of the Korean peninsula issue on the chessboard of their so-called Indo-Pacific strategy.”
Russia’s ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, accused the United States of ignoring North Korea’s appeals to stop “hostile activity.”
“It seems that our American and other Western colleagues are suffering from the equivalent of writer’s block. They seem to have no response to crisis situations other than introducing new sanctions,” he said.
President Joe Biden’s administration has repeatedly said it is willing to speak with North Korea without preconditions.
It has found little interest in working-level talks from North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un held three high-profile meetings with Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump.