BEIJING/WASHINGTON • China expressed its opposition yesterday to unilateral sanctions against North Korea, saying they could raise tensions, after the United States imposed new curbs on the isolated country in retaliation for its nuclear and rocket tests.
US President Barack Obama on Wednesday imposed sweeping new sanctions on North Korea intended to further isolate its leadership after its recent actions, which were seen by the US and its allies as provocative. The new sanctions threaten to ban from the global financial system anyone who does business with broad swathes of North Korea's economy, including its financial, mining and transport sectors.
The new so-called secondary sanctions will compel banks to freeze the assets of anyone who breaks the blockade, potentially squeezing out North Korea's business ties, including those with China.
Asked whether China was worried that the sanctions could affect "normal" business links between Chinese banks and North Korea, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said this was something China was "paying attention to".
"First, as I've said many times before, China always opposes any country imposing unilateral sanctions," Mr Lu told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
"Second, under the present situation where the situation on the Korean peninsula is complex and sensitive, we oppose any moves that may further worsen tensions there.
"Third, we have clearly stressed many times in meetings with the relevant country, any so-called unilateral sanctions imposed by any country should neither affect nor harm China's reasonable interests."
China is North Korea's sole major ally but it disapproves of its nuclear programme and has called for the Korean peninsula to be free of nuclear weapons.
While China has signed up for tough new United Nations sanctions against North Korea, it has said repeatedly that sanctions are not the answer and that only a resumption of talks can resolve the dispute over the North's weapons programme.
The US measures, which vastly expand a US blockade of North Korea, prohibit the export of goods from the US to North Korea.
US officials had previously believed a blanket trade ban would be ineffective without a stronger commitment from China, North Korea's largest trading partner.
North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Jan 6, and on Feb 7 it launched a rocket that the US and its allies said used banned ballistic missile technology. Although China has signed on to the new UN sanctions, US officials and experts have questioned China's commitment to enforcing such measures.