China and Russia vetoed on Thursday a U.S.-led push to impose more U.N. sanctions on North Korea over its renewed ballistic missile launches, publicly splitting the Security Council for the first time since it started punishing Pyongyang in 2006.
The remaining 13 council members all voted in favor of the U.S.-drafted resolution that proposed banning tobacco and oil exports to North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un is a chain smoker. It would also blacklist the Lazarus hacking group, which the United States says is tied to North Korea.
The vote came a day after North Korea fired three missiles, including one thought to be its largest intercontinental ballistic missile, following U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Asia. It was the latest in a string of ballistic missile launches this year, which are banned by the Security Council.
Citing the council’s silence on North Korea, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said this month that “it is time to stop providing tacit permission and to start taking action.”
Over the past 16 years the Security Council has steadily, and unanimously, stepped up sanctions to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. It last tightened sanctions on Pyongyang in 2017.
Since then, China and Russia have been pushing for an easing of sanctions on humanitarian grounds. While they have delayed some action behind closed doors in the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee, the vote on the resolution on Thursday was the first time they have publicly broken unanimity.
“We do not think additional sanctions will be helpful in responding to the current situation. It can only make the situation even worse,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters earlier Thursday ahead of the vote.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told Reuters on Wednesday that he did not believe U.N. action would be “very conducive” to engagement with North Korea.
China has also been urging the United States to take action to entice Pyongyang to resume talks that have been stalled since 2019, after three failed summits between Kim and then-U.S. President Donald Trump.
“The United States, as a direct party, should really take meaningful and practical actions to resume their dialog with DPRK [North Korea],” Zhang said, noting that included Washington lifting some unilateral sanctions.
Pyongyang had put testing on hold during the past few years, but in the past few months has resumed long-range ballistic missile launches. The United States and South Korea have warned that North Korea is preparing for a seventh nuclear test.