February 29, 2016 5:50 am

China bracing for North Korean response to new sanctions

South Korean protesters attend an anti-North Korea rally on February 11, 2016 in Seoul, South Korea.

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Beijing is on alert for any angry responses from North Korea to proposed new United Nations sanctions over the North’s recent nuclear test and rocket launch, a Chinese diplomat said Monday.

The diplomat, who accompanied Foreign Minister Wang Yi during talks in Washington last week, said the two countries had agreed on the need for harsh sanctions against North Korea for defying U.N. resolutions.

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However, the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the U.S. should also provide incentives to North Korea to return to negotiations, such as offering progress on a permanent peace agreement between the sides. The two countries are still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

“We are fully aware that in the next couple of months the situation in this area could be very sensitive. On the one hand, you have to be prepared, keep alert on what kind of reaction might be from Pyongyang,” the diplomat said.

The U.S. and South Korea also bear responsibility to avoid actions that North Korea might view as provocative, such as scheduled military drills, he said. “We hope that after the adoption of the resolution all sides should refrain from taking any measures that could escalate.”

China is North Korea’s most important ally, biggest trading partner and key source of food and fuel. However, Beijing says its influence with Kim Jong Un’s government is limited and has argued against measures from the international community that could spark its collapse, potentially leading to a wave of refugees crossing the border into China and the stationing of U.S. and South Korean troops in the North.

Despite its reservations, Beijing signed on to a draft resolution that for the first time would subject cargo ships leaving and entering North Korea to mandatory inspections, prohibit the sale of small arms and other conventional weapons to the North, and impose financial sanctions targeting North Korean banks and assets and ban all dual-use nuclear and missile-related items.

The proposed sanctions would also limit and in some cases ban exports of coal, iron, gold, titanium and rare earth minerals from North Korea and would prohibit countries from supplying aviation fuel, including rocket fuel, to the country. Items such as luxury watches, snowmobiles, recreational water vehicles and lead crystal were also added to a long list of luxury goods that North Korea is not allowed to import.

North Korea started off the new year with what it says was its first hydrogen bomb test on Jan. 6. It followed with the launch of a satellite on a rocket on Feb. 7 that was condemned by China and much of the world as a test of banned missile technology.

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