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(News Focus) Geopolitical tensions could hamper enforcement of new N.K. sanctions: experts

All Headlines 10:51 March 07, 2016

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, March 7 (Yonhap) -- Growing geopolitical tensions stemming from the potential dispatch of an advanced U.S. missile defense system to the Korean Peninsula could pose a hurdle to enforcing newly adopted U.N. sanctions on North Korea, analysts here said Monday.

The United States has been mired in an increasingly intense spat with China and Russia over the proposed deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system as Beijing and Moscow have categorically opposed it on the grounds that it would hurt their security interests.

Seoul and Washington launched their official talks over the deployment here last week, further aggravating friction with their former Cold War foes, which observers say would be "key players" in the implementation of the new U.N. Security Council (UNSC) sanctions resolution.

"As China's own interpretation of the resolution could affect its enforcement of the sanctions, China's role would be a substantial factor," said Park Won-gon, international affairs expert at Handong Global University.

"Should the allies, the U.S. and South Korea, rashly push for the THAAD deployment, China, along with Russia, could potentially be uncooperative in the enforcement of the new UNSC sanctions," he added.

Last Wednesday, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2270 to punish Pyongyang for its Jan. 6 nuclear test and Feb. 7 long-range rocket launch. The resolution entails tough sanctions, including what could amount to a land, sea and air blockade.

To ensure the efficacy of the resolution, China and Russia, the permanent UNSC members that have maintained economic ties with the North, should rigorously enforce the resolution and encourage other U.N. member states to follow suit, analysts pointed out.

The trade volume between China and the North alone accounts for some 90 percent of the isolated country's total trade, while trade with Russia, the North's second-largest trading partner, accounts for a little over 1 percent.

"Given the sheer trade volume with China and to a lesser extent Russia, and their supply to the North of strategic materials, including oil, the two should be the key players in the enforcement of the sanctions," said Chang Yong-seok, a senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Unification affiliated with Seoul National University.

China has agreed to the latest package of anti-Pyongyang sanctions, but it had long been reluctant to apply stringent sanctions to its unruly ally as they could destabilize the regime and touch off a series of security and humanitarian crises, including the outflow of refugees into China.

Adding to the concerns over the enforcement of the sanctions, Chinese and Russian officials have hardened their rhetoric against THAAD.

"The related nations should not take any action that would worsen the very complicated and sensitive situation on the Korean Peninsula," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said as he expressed Beijing's opposition to the launch of the allies' talks over THAAD.

"We hope that they behave in a cautious manner and will not undermine China's legitimate strategic security interests."

Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin has also urged against the THAAD deployment, saying Moscow is against using North Korea "as a pretext of a military buildup."

Dismissing security concerns of China and Russia, the U.S. has stressed the defensive nature of THAAD, a core element of the U.S.' global multilayered missile defense shield. It has also claimed that THAAD would only target the North.

But Beijing and Moscow have claimed that the long-range radar, embedded in the THAAD system, could be used to monitor their military activities. The AN/TPY-2 X-Band radar is known to have a detecting range of around 1,800 kilometers.

Some analysts said that Seoul and Washington could take advantage of the THAAD issue as "diplomatic leverage" to pressure Beijing and Moscow to exhaustively enforce the package of UNSC sanctions and ultimately cause Pyongyang to renounce its nuclear ambitions.

"Should China and Russia fully cooperate in implementing the sanctions resolution, South Korea and the U.S. could delay their talks or rethink the option of the THAAD deployment," said Nam Chang-hee, security expert at Inha University.

"If things go well and the sanctions help denuclearize North Korea, the allies would not need to discuss the THAAD issue anymore."

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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