Sanctions on North Korea serve only to strengthen Kim Jong Un: Philippines

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that while sanctions are working, they are still "strengthening the hand" of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. PHOTO: REUTERS

CLARK, PHILIPPINES (AFP) - International sanctions on North Korea are not working and serve only to strengthen the regime of Kim Jong Un, the Philippine defence minister said on Tuesday (Oct 24).

The United States, which has a longstanding defence pact with the Philippines, has led a drive at the UN Security Council to impose tough sanctions against the North for its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

The threat from Pyongyang's programme was a major topic at a two-day meeting of Asean defence chiefs and their partners hosted by the Philippines.

"Sanctions (are) not working but still strengthening the hand of Mr Kim Jong Un," Philippine defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters, as he gave his own assessment on the issue after leading the meetings.

"It feeds on his fears of being invaded also and so he rallies his people to fight against invaders, to 'support me'. Instead of weakening him, it is strengthening his hold on his people."

The North has for decades been developing atomic weapons and the missiles to deliver them and says it needs them to counter a US nuclear threat.

After a flurry of missile launches by the North and its sixth nuclear test last month, the UN imposed fresh sanctions that included bans or restrictions on the export of coal, iron ore and seafood by Pyongyang.

US President Donald Trump has also engaged in an escalating war of words with Kim, trading personal insults and threatening to "totally destroy" his country if it threatens the US.

US defence secretary James Mattis and his counterparts from South Korea and Japan vowed to step up diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang, saying its weapons programmes pose "an unprecedented and grave threat" to the region.

Mattis met the ministers on Monday as part of an Asian trip that will see him visiting Seoul for annual defence talks, ahead of a visit to Asia by Trump.

North Korea was "slowly being isolated" but major powers should rethink their approach, said Lorenzana.

"I think some of the major players in that area - the US, China and Russia - will have to come up with another approach to reach out to North Korea," he said.

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