- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

12:54 p.m.

BEIJING — China appeared to shy away today from backing U.S. efforts to impose a travel ban and financial sanctions on North Korea for its claimed nuclear test, saying any U.N. action should focus on bringing its communist neighbor back to talks.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said North Korea should understand it made a mistake but “punishment should not be the purpose” of any U.N. response.

U.N. action “should be conducive to the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula … and the resumption of the talks,” he told reporters. “It’s necessary to express clearly to North Korea that … the international community is opposed to this nuclear test.”

The United States has circulated a new U.N. Security Council resolution that seeks to ban travel by people involved in North Korea’s weapons program but softens some other measures to win Russian and Chinese support. North Korea warned it would consider increased U.S. pressure an act of war and take unspecified countermeasures.

China’s response to the crisis has been watched closely because it is considered to have the most leverage with the unpredictable, reclusive North Korean regime. China, a veto-wielding Security Council member, is the North’s top provider of desperately needed energy and economic aid.

Chinese officials have refused to say publicly what consequences they think North Korea should face for its claimed nuclear test, although its U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, agreed earlier this week that the Security Council must impose “punitive actions.”

Japan is imposing its own new sanctions against North Korea. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party approved several harsh measures today, including limits on imports and a ban on all North Korean ships in Japanese waters.

The latest U.S. proposal dropped Japanese demands to prohibit North Korean ships from entering any port and North Korean aircraft from taking off or landing in any country. These sanctions likely would face strong Russian and Chinese opposition.

The resolution still would require countries to freeze all assets related to North Korea’s weapons and missile programs, but a call to freeze assets from other illicit activities such as “counterfeiting, money-laundering or narcotics” was dropped. So was a call to prevent “any abuses of the international financial system” that could contribute to the transfer or development of banned weapons.

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