July 05, 2010 09:32
China is apparently blocking any term or phrase in the UN Security Council that would point directly to North Korea as the culprit that sank the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan in March.
The UNSC is debating how to hold the North to account for the torpedo attack. Already China finds that description too strong and wants it referred to as an "incident."
According to sources at the South Korean mission to the UN, the atmosphere at the UNSC was "tenser than expected" last Thursday, when China, which is North Korea's staunchest ally and as a permanent UNSC member has a veto, resisted any attempts to deal firmly with the North.
The North Korean UN mission has consistently used the term "incident." South Korea and China are reportedly engaged in a tug of war over the wording, which China consistently trying to water it down.
The UNSC has come up with nothing so far even though nearly a month has passed since the matter was referred to it and South and North Korea delivered separate briefings on the sinking.
South Korea and its two allies the U.S. and Japan want the North expressly held to account, and describe the sinking as a clear violation of the armistice agreement and an act of provocation. North Korea's long-term allies China and Russia are trying to hold out, mainly muttering about the need to investigate further or urging calm.
Even if a compromise is reached, any resulting UNSC chairman's statement is expected to lack teeth.
By contrast, a South Korean diplomat at the UN said the G8 leaders were able to adopt a relatively strong statement, in Toronto since China is not a member. "But the atmosphere at the UNSC is different, because both China and Russia are speaking for the North as permanent members."
The G8 leaders in a joint communique on June 27 said they "deplore the attack on March 26 that caused the sinking... resulting in the tragic loss of 46 lives." Stressing that an international investigation pointed to North Korea as the culprit, the communique added, "We condemn, in this context, the attack which led to the sinking of the Cheonan."
Pundits speculate that China is concerned mostly with maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Seoul has embarked on a diplomatic campaign to bring China round, arguing it must play a responsible role commensurate with its international status. It is also urging strong international action to stop North Korea from trying again.
"We should be neither optimistic nor pessimistic yet," the UN diplomat said. "Nobody can rule out that negotiations continue into the next week and a dramatic compromise will be achieved."
Nigerian ambassador Joy Ogwu has taken the rotating UNSC chairmanship on July 1, replacing his predecessor Mexican ambassador Claude Heller.
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