The Slatest

China Warns North Korea Tensions Entering “Critical Phase” After New U.N. Sanctions

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional security forum in suburban Manila on Sunday.

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China seems to have decided it will throw its weight behind the global campaign to increase pressure on North Korea as it warned that the reclusive state should not do anything to provoke the international community at a time when tensions are entering “a very critical phase.” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the new U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea on Saturday were the right steps to take and expressed optimism that North Korea’s leaders would make “the right and smart decision” about how to proceed. But even as China seemed to be heeding to the U.S. calls to isolate North Korea, Wang also had a message for Washington: “We would like to urge other parties like the United States and South Korea to stop increasing tensions.”

The Trump administration seemed to cautiously welcome Beijing’s apparent cooperation, even as it warned that it would keep a close eye on how China acted over the coming weeks. The diplomatic talks came as the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved sanctions that are expected to cost North Korea as much as $1 billion, or one third of its annual export revenue. The sanctions, which were the result of month-long negotiations between the U.S. and China, target North Korea’s main exports as well as banks and joint ventures with foreign companies. They amount to “the strongest sanctions ever imposed in response to a ballistic missile test,” according to a statement from the office of Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Trump praised the sanctions on Twitter.

China emphasized the sanctions should be seen as a means to an end rather than the goal itself. “The purpose is to pull the peninsula nuclear issue back to the negotiating table, and to seek a final solution to realize the peninsula denuclearization and long-term stability through negotiations,” Wang said. So far, there are no signs that the United States would be willing to launch fresh negotiations with Pyongyang unless North Korea gives up its nuclear ambitions. But South Korea has recently suggested there could be a sit-down in the near future.