US urges China to increase sanctions on North Korea after rocket launch

A sales assistant watches TV sets broadcasting a news report on North Korea's nuclear test, in Seoul, January 6, 2016.
Kim Hong-Ji | Reuters

China agrees any new U.N. resolution on North Korea will include additional sanctions and go beyond previous steps, but Washington is urging Beijing to put even more pressure on Pyongyang after its recent nuclear test and rocket launch, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.

China is in "unique position" as North Korea's neighbor and ally to compel it to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, the official told Reuters, as U.N. diplomats sought to craft a new sanctions resolution.

"It's clear to me that our Chinese friends have indicated that the U.N. Security Council's response will include sanctions and does need to go beyond previous resolutions," he said.

"The key of course is what exactly are the specific actions that we are going to take together and that's the focus of our efforts right now." the official said. "We have made clear that China can do more and needs to do more."

China and the United States have not entirely seen eye to eye on how strong the response should be to North Korea since its Jan. 6 nuclear test, with Washington urging harsh punitive measures and Beijing stressing the need for dialogue.

President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jingping spoke on Friday, a day before North Korea launched a long-range rocket it said was carrying a satellite but which Western officials believe was a test of ballistic missile technology.

The official said Washington and Beijing remained in close touch on how to respond to North Korea.

The U.N. Security Council on Sunday strongly condemned North Korea's rocket launch and promised to take action, while Washington vowed to ensure the 15-nation body imposed "serious consequences" on Pyongyang as soon as possible.

The official said the response needed "to demonstrate very clearly again that there are consequences to these actions and the international community is prepared to take practical steps to restrict North Korea's ability to fund these programs."

One diplomat told Reuters that Washington was hoping to tighten international restrictions on North Korea's banking system, while Beijing was reluctant to support that step for fear of worsening conditions in its impoverished neighbor.

The United States and South Korea announced after the missile test they had begun formal discussions about the possibility of deploying an advanced missile defense system to which China has objected, arguing it could undermine its strategic deterrent.

The U.S. official said the United States had told China that the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, was "a defensive system, designed specifically to counter the threat from North Korea" and not aimed at China.

Beijing, at odds with the United States over Washington's reaction to its building of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, quickly expressed "deep concern" about a system whose radar could penetrate Chinese territory.

"When pursuing its own security, one country should not impair others' security interests," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.