Russia and China say steps to further tighten sanctions against North Korea in the wake of its latest nuclear test would do little to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The two also warned about the dangers of military intervention.
Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday said tougher sanctions were senseless and would not change the leadership in Pyongyang. Such moves, Putin said, would lead to large-scale human suffering. Putin also warned of a “global catastrophe” if what he called military hysteria around North Korea continues to increase. Putin spoke to reporters in Xiamen, China at the conclusion of a leaders' summit of the BRICS group of five major emerging economies - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
On Sunday, just as the BRICS meeting was beginning in the Chinese southeastern coastal city, North Korea carried out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test. Leaders attending the meeting condemned the test, but Beijing moved quickly to keep it from taking attention away from the meeting.
While there are concerns in China’s northeast about the leakage of radiation and the impact of the test – which was felt in Chinese provinces along the North's border - Chinese state media have focused heavily on the BRICS summit in recent days.
The most recent round of sanctions is not only having an impact on North Korea, but on business in China’s northeast. China shares a 1,400-plus-kilometer border with North Korea and is the isolated country’s biggest trading partner.
Chinese President Xi Jinping did not mention the topic when he briefed journalists at the end of the BRICS summit. He also did not take questions.
Highly sensitive and complicated
Later, at a regular briefing, China’s Foreign Ministry reiterated its stand that peaceful negotiations were the best way to resolve the problem and encouraged any suggestions or proposals that would aid the early return to such talks, which have been stalled for nearly a decade.
"At present the situation on the peninsula is highly sensitive and complicated. We hope all parties can make efforts to avoid further escalating tensions on the peninsula," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.
Geng also said China was prepared to discuss new sanctions at the United Nations Security Council, of which it is a member, along with Russia and the United States.
Although the statement indicates that Beijing will not budge from its stance on North Korea, Geng did not rule out China discussing new sanctions at the UNSC.
“The response and decisions of the Security Council depend on the results of discussion by members,” he said. “China will begin from a position of principle to maintain the peace and stability and realize the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, will resolve issues through dialogue and consultation, and will take part in Security Council discussions in a responsible and constructive manner."
Blunt talk by Putin
Although Chinese President Xi was silent on the issue when he spoke to media and during the summit, perhaps missing an opportunity for Beijing to play a bigger role in resolving the crisis, Russian President Putin was not.
At a press conference, where he took questions from journalists, Putin clearly laid out Russia’s views on North Korea as well as a wide range of other issues from Ukraine to the treatment of Russian diplomats in the United States.
Putin also said he will meet with the leaders of Japan and South Korea on Wednesday and Thursday in the Russian coastal city of Vladivostok, where he says they will discuss the North Korean crisis.
The steps by Russia to seemingly play a more prominent role in dealing with North Korea are unlikely to be a sign that it is competing with China. More likely, analysts say, is that Moscow is using Pyongyang as a means to get back at the U.S.
Much like China, however, the amount of sway that Russia can have over North Korea is in question, says Professor Ramesh Thakur, director of the Center for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University.
“I think the fact that North Korea carried out a test, literally on the eve of the BRICS summit, which was being held in China, is a signal of sorts that it is beyond being ordered [about], even by its neighboring patron or patrons,” Thakur says.