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Korean Peninsula

Volume 520: debated on Tuesday 14 December 2010

8. What recent assessment he has made of the prospects for a resolution of the dispute in the Korean peninsula. (30266)

Tensions are likely to remain high until North Korea abandons its provocative behaviour and violation of UN resolutions, and creates the conditions for the resumption of talks by making verifiable progress towards denuclearisation. Talks between relevant parties offer the best prospect for achieving a resolution of the dispute, but cannot succeed without trust.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that reply. Does he agree with the statement issued from last week’s trilateral summit of Japanese and South Korean Foreign Ministers with Secretary of State Clinton that North Korea’s actions have jeopardised peace in northern Asia and that North Korea’s provocative and belligerent behaviour will be met by solidarity from all three countries? What representations will the UK continue to make to demonstrate the dissatisfaction of the British people with North Korea’s continual flouting of UN resolutions?

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the statement from the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union, and also the associated statements from Japan. The Prime Minister spoke to the UN Secretary-General and President Lee of South Korea on 24 November, and expressed our strong support for South Korea. In addition, we have held meetings in the past week: senior FCO officials have met North Korean counterparts to relay our messages and our clear view on recent events that North Korea should resume co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and ensure that all nuclear activity adheres to the requirements of that agency, and that it faces increasing isolation unless these matters are dealt with.

The people of Ealing North keep a very close eye on rising tension in the Yellow sea, partly because the embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is in Ealing—oddly enough, in the house that was formerly occupied by my hero, Sid James. Has the Foreign Secretary had any recent conversations with his colleague the Secretary of State for Defence about any British maritime presence in the area?

We are interested to know of the history of buildings in Ealing in this respect. I imagine the building in question saw much more amusing times when occupied by Sid James than when occupied by the North Koreans. Nevertheless, our relations with that country are important, because we have to be able to pass clearly to them the messages I have just described. Yes, of course I discuss this issue, and not only with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, but across Government through the framework of our National Security Council. The maritime presence in the area is more a concern of South Korea, Japan and the United States than of the United Kingdom, but we always keep that under review.

In view of the fact that China shares a border with North Korea, it might reasonably be thought that the Government of the People’s Republic of China would have an interest in stability on the Korean peninsula. What efforts has the Foreign Secretary made to engage with his counterpart in the PRC Government to encourage that country to take an active role in reducing tension in the area?

I have had many such discussions. Indeed, some of my earliest discussions on becoming Foreign Secretary some months ago were with my Chinese counterpart on the subject of Korea and encouraging stability there. It was part of the strategic dialogue I conducted with the Chinese leaders in July in Beijing. My right hon. and learned Friend is right that China has that interest in stability there, although that also means that China is often very cautious about supporting the kind of language and the kind of condemnation that we think is appropriate for North Korea’s recent actions. That makes it much more difficult to pass strong Security Council resolutions about North Korean violations of the type that we have recently seen. China interprets the need for stability quite differently from the way we interpret it, but there is a strong and continuing dialogue about it between us and China.

Given that North Korea has so far evaded two UN Security Council resolutions and is, despite international condemnation, continuing attempts to enrich uranium, is there any hope at all that it will not become a nuclear power?

North Korea makes many claims about its nuclear capabilities including, recently, about enrichment facilities. We are deeply concerned by reports that it is building a new nuclear facility, in violation, as my hon. Friend says, of two Security Council resolutions. We urge it to resume co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that all its nuclear activity adheres to IAEA safeguards agreements. Until North Korea makes verifiable progress on that, we urge the international community robustly to implement the existing United Nations sanctions.

The Opposition welcome the Foreign Secretary’s condemnation of North Korea’s recent unprovoked attacks on South Korea and I should like to associate myself with the comments he made a moment ago. I want to press him further on his response to China’s offer to host the emergency six-party talks. Does he regard that as the best way forward?

I am grateful for the Opposition’s support. It always makes a difference in these diplomatic matters if the House of Commons stands united. It will be noticed in the world that the House of Commons is absolutely united in condemning the recent actions of North Korea. I do not think that an immediate return to the six-party talks is the way forward as that would be, in a sense, a reward for North Korea’s behaviour. Other discussions and other ways forward will have to be found.