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Korean Peninsula

Volume 561: debated on Tuesday 23 April 2013

4. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for the UK of instability in the Korean peninsula. (152347)

6. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for the UK of instability in the Korean peninsula. (152349)

Our assessment remains that there is no immediate risk to British nationals living or travelling in the Korean peninsula. But North Korea’s rhetoric and behaviour poses a serious risk to the stability of the region, which includes several of the world’s largest economies. The impact of miscalculation by the North Korean regime could extend well beyond its region. That is why the international response must remain clear, calm and united.

Inevitably and rightly, there has been tremendous focus on the absurd rhetoric of the North Korean regime and the development of its nuclear capability, but last month the United Nations Human Rights Council decided to set up a commission of inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea. Will the Foreign Secretary give us an indication of how that work might develop?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right about this. The UN Human Rights Council agreed to establish a commission of inquiry. This was a unanimous vote, which is unusual on these issues, and it was proposed in a resolution presented by the European Union and Japan, and co-sponsored by more than 40 countries. This will investigate the most serious human rights violations identified by the UN special rapporteur, including those in political prison camps. It is quite right that we do everything we can to investigate what is known to the world as an appalling record of human rights abuse in North Korea.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a further missile test by North Korea would be illegal, provocative and dangerous in the current climate? What steps has he taken to persuade the Chinese Government to use their influence to urge the North Koreans not to go down this dangerous path and to return to the negotiation table?

As my hon. Friend rightly says, we work with China on this, and of course with the United States. I was pleased that on Secretary Kerry’s visit to China in the last 10 days, the United States and China presented a strong, united position on this. As I reported to the House last week, we were active in bringing together the G8 nations, including Russia, during our meeting with G8 Foreign Ministers in London two weeks ago, to make it clear to the North Korean Government that they have a choice to make: either continue with this provocative path and face further isolation, or engage constructively with the rest of the world.

Clearly, immense challenges remain in the Korean peninsula, including for British citizens and their representatives. What additional support has been provided through the Foreign Secretary’s office to embassy staff in both North and South Korea during this period of heightened threats and tensions?

The offices function very well. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question because it gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to our embassy staff in Pyongyang. It is not an easy country for the staff of western embassies to work in, but their work is important, particularly as many of our allies, such as Japan, the United States and South Korea, do not have embassies in Pyongyang. Our embassy is important and the small staff there do a great job. We were informed on 5 April by the North Koreans that they could not guarantee the safety of embassies in the event of war, but we are responding in the calm way that I have advocated, and our embassy sees no need to be withdrawn from Pyongyang.

Despite the limited nature of the threat directly posed to Britain by North Korea, does the Secretary of State agree that the speed with which this crisis has arisen indicates how foolish we would be to downgrade our strategic nuclear deterrent in the future?

Yes, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. That would be a very serious national error. We have to bear in mind that North Korea has paraded, but not tested, a long-range missile with a claimed range of 12,000 km. That is clearly the sort of thing that it is trying to develop, and we must bear that in mind when making the decision that my hon. Friend talks about.

Does not the behaviour of North Korea confirm that vile dictatorships are a threat not only to their own citizens, but to their neighbours? Has the Minister conveyed the full support of the UK to the Governments of South Korea and Japan in the face of outrageous aggression from North Korea? What steps is he taking to ensure that disputes in east Asia are resolved through international law, not military action?

Yes, we are in very close consultation with those countries. I discussed this in detail with Foreign Minister Kishida of Japan when he was here two weeks ago, and last week I telephoned Foreign Minister Yun of South Korea. These countries are very conscious of our support and grateful for the support that we give at the UN Security Council. On other disputes in east Asia, we make it clear to all countries concerned that we wish to see them peacefully resolved and in accordance with international law.

Given the reckless, threatening behaviour in the north, what would the Foreign Secretary say to those in South Korea who would advocate a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent as a central plank of their future national security?

Of course, the goal of international policy is to bring about the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, which is something the South Korean Government support, but I believe that it is very important for a country, such as ours, which has a nuclear deterrent that adds enormously to the credibility of the western alliance, to keep it.