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North Korea

Volume 741: debated on Wednesday 12 December 2012

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the impact on regional and world security of North Korea’s recent missile launch.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice. I declare a non-pecuniary interest as the chairman of the All-Party Group on North Korea.

My Lords, we condemn North Korea’s satellite launch. This test of its ballistic missile technology is in clear violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874. This provocative act will only serve to increase regional tensions and undermine prospects for peace in the peninsula. The UK is urgently consulting with the UN Security Council and we have urged North Korea to return to constructive international negotiations.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her response. Is not this highly provocative act, coming a week before South Korea’s elections, an attempt to undermine any attempts at peaceful moves for reconciliation and progress? It is also a wicked waste of resources, estimated at some $800 million. That is enough to feed the entire population of North Korea for a year, in a country where malnutrition and starvation are commonplace. Will the Minister tell the House whether the Government have called in the North Korean ambassador and, if so, what will they say to him? Does she welcome China’s statement this morning, in advance of the Security Council meeting, that,

“Pyongyang should … abide by relevant UN Security Council resolutions … which demands the DPRK not to conduct ‘any launch using ballistic missile technology’ and urges it to ‘suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programme’”?

I agree with the noble Lord. I think that the timing of this testing is indeed important and relevant, so soon after the US elections and the transfer of power in China and just before the elections in Japan and South Korea. We are looking at the timing of this matter in some detail. I also agree with the noble Lord that for a country with extreme poverty to be using resources on developing what we feel to be further nuclear missile technology is not an appropriate use of funds.

I can confirm that the North Korean ambassador to the UK was called to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office today—indeed, possibly as we speak, he is in a meeting with the Permanent Under-Secretary.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in a country where there is so much human suffering, it would behove North Korea rather more to make a priority of alleviating suffering, as well as seeking dialogue and reconciliation, and that this provocative act, as she described it, damages both those targets? Will she ensure that we do not lose sight of the human rights violations in a country where the United Nations estimates that 200,000 people are held in prison camps?

The right reverend Prelate is right. In a country where both resource and energy could be spent on so much, whether on alleviating poverty or on human rights, this does not appear to be an act which is in the interests of its own people.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising the Question today, because we share the concern that this missile test will be destabilising regionally and for the world, and may well provide the grounds for a regional arms race and proliferation.

There have been reports today that part of the missile project has been conducted jointly with Iran. Have the Government any further information on that? Will the process that we will go through on the Security Council resolutions have the same characteristics as were announced about an hour and a quarter ago by the United States: that there should be a full head of steam behind the approach to the United Nations, potentially calling for similar sanctions to those in force on Iran?

I can confirm, my Lords, that discussions are ongoing as to how the United Nations Security Council proceeds in this matter: whether it is by way of a further resolution or a presidential statement; whether further sanctions could be applied; and the nature of those sanctions. On the noble Lord’s question about Iran, I do not have any further information at this stage, but if it is something that I can write to him about, I will.

My Lords, this has been the third serious provocation in less than four years by North Korea. The noble Baroness referred to the potential of the UN Security Council meeting. Will she assure the House that in the conversations that will be had with China with respect to potential Security Council sanctions against North Korea, the energy dependence of North Korea on China will be discussed, and that China will be pressed not to continue to provide oil to North Korea?

My Lords, having been to North Korea reasonably recently and had less than satisfactory conversations with politicians and the military there, I think that we ought to realise that the one thing that unites North Korea is hatred of the United States. We should do everything that we possibly can to try to get the United States to have a better dialogue with North Korea. Wherever you go in North Korea they remember the Korean War—the monuments are all around the country. It is taught to children from the very first year they go to school. I hope that we can try to influence the Americans to understand this, and they could make a big difference. The Korean War was 60 years ago.

The noble and gallant Lord clearly speaks from experience in relation to his own visit and his own dialogue. I can only speak on behalf of our Government. Even in very difficult circumstances we felt it was appropriate to continue our dialogue and our discussions in whatever opportunities present through our embassy in North Korea.

Can the Minister tell us a little more about the way we are trying to draw China into a longer and deeper discussion about how we deal with North Korea? China has an enormous problem on its own border, not just because of the military side but also because of starving refugees trying to get across that border. Surely a large part of this must be our attempt to get China more fully engaged in a longer-term proposal as this regime is one of the most awful and most dangerous in the world.

I agree with the noble Lord that China has to be part of the solution in relation to North Korea. The noble Lord will be aware that it is part of the six-nation discussions, which of course also include the United States, Russia and Japan.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the only long-term solution to the untold misery of the people of North Korea, and the ending of the serious menace that that state poses to regional and indeed world peace, is its absorption into South Korea? Does she agree that the Chinese would not necessarily be averse to that solution?

My Lords, it is good news that the ambassador of North Korea has been called in. I have not heard many people mentioning South Korea—the Republic of Korea—in this exchange. Are Her Majesty’s Government speaking to the South Koreans to urge them not to try to take any kind of unilateral action and that whatever they do, it should be done through the United Nations?

As the noble Lord will appreciate, this was a Private Notice Question. I am not sure if any discussions have taken place immediately, certainly within the past 24 hours, on the specific point that the noble Lord raises. We are, however, in general discussions with the South Koreans on this matter and, as I said earlier, they form part of the six-nation dialogue.

Is it not the wish of the Government now to consult with America and China on how to deal with this situation? We cannot deal with it single-handed.

My noble friend is right. This is not a matter which the UK would seek to deal with in any way single-handedly.