China and Russia were called to explain to the international community on Wednesday why they vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for new sanctions on North Korea for its recent string of prohibited long-range and ballistic missile tests.
Wednesday was the first time the General Assembly implemented its April 25 resolution requiring any of the five permanent members of the powerful Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) to explain their actions to the wider U.N. membership when they exercise their use of the veto.
Both countries shifted the blame to the U.S., saying Washington pushed for the May 26 council vote on sanctions, which they did not believe were warranted.
"Since the DPRK took denuclearization measures in 2018, the U.S. side has not reciprocated the DPRK's positive initiatives and has not addressed the DPRK's legitimate and reasonable concerns," China's envoy, Zhang Jun, told the assembly, referring to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea by its acronym. "Nor has it demonstrated the necessary sincerity for resolving the issue."
He said the council's sanctions were harsh and unprecedented, and in light of the recent COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea, new measures would be inhumane.
"Anyone who is seriously addressing the North Korean problem has long understood that it is futile to expect Pyongyang to unconditionally disarm under the threat of a spiral of sanctions," Russian Deputy Ambassador Anna Evstigneeva said.
Both said they would have preferred the council express itself through a formal statement rather than a resolution.
For its part, North Korea's envoy, Kim Song, said his country carries out missile tests on a regular basis and it is exercising its legitimate right to self-defense.
So far this year, North Korea has carried out more than 30 missile launches, including several intercontinental ballistic missiles. In a 2017 resolution, the Security Council threatened to intensify sanctions if Pyongyang carried out another ICBM launch.
"Each and every one of these launches violated multiple Security Council resolutions that were adopted by consensus," U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis said. "In response to these provocations, China and Russia cast vetoes that gave the DPRK an implicit nod of approval."
The U.S.-drafted resolution would have tightened some sanctions, but also would have provided COVID-19 humanitarian relief.
Since the veto, North Korea carried out eight ballistic missile launches in a single event — the most ever. International concerns are also growing that Pyongyang is preparing for a potential nuclear test.
"Over the last few years, there have been very high tensions in the Security Council, but China, Russia and the U.S. had always agreed to limit their divisions over Korean affairs, and it's a worrying sign that they have come to this breakdown," Richard Gowan, U.N. director for the International Crisis Group, told VOA of the council's break in unity.
The Security Council veto has been cast 296 times since the U.N. was created in 1945. The USSR/Russia has cast the majority of them. Britain and France have used it the least, last in 1989. It has stalled action recently on Ukraine, but also for the last decade on Syria's conflict, as well as crises in other parts of the world.