South Korea looks to EU and UN to boost pressure on North and China

Seoul looks to Europe to counter Pyongyang saber-rattling and challenge Beijing on North Korean refugee issues.
By Lee Jeong-Ho for RFA
Seoul, South Korea
South Korea looks to EU and UN to boost pressure on North and China Kim Gunn, South Korea’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, speaks at the E.U. Political and Security Committee in the E.U. headquarters in Brussels on Jan. 23, 2024.
South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

South Korea has intensified its diplomatic efforts against North Korea and China, strengthening its alliance with the European Union in Brussels to counter threats from Pyongyang, while confronting Beijing at the United Nations over the repatriation of North Korean defectors. 

Kim Gunn, South Korea’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, visited the E.U. headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday and emphasized the necessity of collaborative responses to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threats, the South’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

Kim, who participated in the E.U. Political and Security Committee, strongly denounced the reported arms deal and technology cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow, calling them “clear violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions.” 

The South Korean envoy also emphasized that the alleged Pyongyang-Moscow cooperation  illustrates the “inseparable connection between the security of the Indo-Pacific region and Europe.”

Pyongyang has beefed up its efforts to bolster ties with key regime backers, notably Russia, indicating its intent to solidify its support network. For instance, Russian President Vladimir Putin met North Korea’s Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui in Moscow last week and vowed to closely collaborate on efforts to jointly deal with global security matters.

Choe’s visit to Russia came amid accusations that Pyongyang and Moscow are engaged in arms trading, with Ukraine alleging that North Korean missiles have been used in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine – a claim that both Pyongyang and Moscow have denied. 

Referring to the alleged arms trade, Kim said that Seoul and Brussels must “closely coordinate and take resolute actions against North Korea’s unlawful activities that pose a significant threat to peace and stability in both the Korean Peninsula and Europe.”

In particular, the envoy proposed collaboration in blocking funding for North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. 

Earlier this month, South Korea imposed a new set of unilateral sanctions against North Korea, adding ships, such as the New Konk and Unica, which had already been sanctioned by the European Union in 2022, to its unilateral sanctions list. This move was widely seen as a move by Seoul to align its sanctions with international entities.

Hours after South Korea’s diplomatic push in the E.U., North Korea launched a series of cruise missiles, according to the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

“North Korea launched several cruise missiles into the West Sea [Yellow Sea],” the JCS said in a statement on Wednesday. “Detailed specifications and other information are currently undergoing precise analysis by the authorities.”

Separately, in Geneva, South Korea escalated its diplomatic pressure on China, North Korea’s biggest regime backer. During a U.N. review session, Seoul urged China to safeguard the human rights of North Korean defectors.

At the fourth Universal Periodic Review, or UPR, for China held under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council, South Korean Ambassador Yun Seong-deok urged Beijing to provide North Korean defectors with the required protections and humanitarian support.  

The UPR is a mechanism that requires each U.N. member state to undergo a peer review of its human rights record every four-and-a-half years.

Yun asked China to halt the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors and to consider establishing its own refugee law as part of efforts to adhere to the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention, which sets out the rights of refugees and the international standards for their protection.

It was Seoul’s first time to have raised the issue at the U.N. peer-review process against China. 

Ahead of China’s fourth UPR, Seoul sent written questions to Beijing to inquire about its stance on the issue of North Korean defectors.

China repatriated more than 500 North Koreans shortly after the Hangzhou Asian Games last year, multiple sources working to rescue North Koreans in China had told Radio Free Asia.

Edited by Taejun Kang and Mike Firn.


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