Skip to main content

North Korea

Volume 782: debated on Thursday 27 April 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what evaluation they have made of the risks to world peace posed by the situation in North Korea.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I should mention that I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea.

My Lords, we have made it clear that North Korea must stop its destabilising behaviour. Its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes are a violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions and a threat to regional and international security. We fully support action at the United Nations Security Council to counter this threat and maintain pressure on the regime. The Foreign Secretary will shortly be discussing North Korea’s illegal activity at the Security Council.

My Lords, yesterday’s presidential invitation to the White House of all 100 Members of the United States Senate for a briefing on the unfolding and dangerous crisis on the Korean peninsula underscores its gravity, as does the recollection that the last Korean war cost nearly 3 million lives, including those of 1,000 British servicemen. With one-quarter of North Korea’s gross domestic product used on armaments and over 1 million men under arms, how are we using our own diplomatic presence in Pyongyang and Beijing and at the Security Council to engage China, to avert North Korea’s present and long-term threat, and to forestall a catastrophic outcome? Closer to home, why was the Korea National Insurance Corporation able to use London—an issue that I raised with the Government last January—to generate over £113 million to support both the regime and its nuclear weapons programme?

I will turn to the specific point before I answer the more general and important point that the noble Lord first made: the EU designated the London office of the Korea National Insurance Corporation on 28 April 2016. Since that date the UK has taken the appropriate actions to sanction the firm and has absolutely followed that through; we take sanctions policy extremely seriously, which is why we issued a White Paper on sanctions just last week. On the general point, we have worked and will continue to work not only through our critical engagement with the North Korean Government in Pyongyang through our embassy there but also at the United Nations, because it is only by work with the United Nations Security Council co-operating and with China exerting influence that there can be any change to North Korean behaviour.

My Lords, I reinforce the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that the key to this incredibly dangerous situation is the full engagement and support of the Chinese Government and the sharing of their concerns with ours and those of the rest of the world. Is it not possible that HMG might be able to play a particularly useful intermediary role in this area?

As always, my noble friend makes a most important point. I can give him an assurance that the Foreign Secretary is meeting the Chinese representatives when he travels later today to New York. He has already had very fruitful discussions with China. It is notable that the whole of the United Nations Security Council, including China, agreed that sanctions should be exerted on the DPRK, and China has shown good faith in that this year in its sanctions on coal.

My Lords, what is the response of Her Majesty’s Government to the opinion expressed today by Mr Paul Wolfowitz, who was a member of the Administration of George W Bush and is no shrinking violet in these matters, that the solution to the crisis with North Korea will not rest in military action, not least because of the dangers that that would present to the citizens of South Korea?

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made it clear that he sees military action as undesirable. We, along with our allies in America, have not taken offensive action. It is of course North Korea that has been offensive in its actions. Clearly the position of Seoul on the border means that any military action would be absolutely disastrous. That is why we are all working together as allies in the United Nations to ensure that there are stronger sanctions and, in particular, that there is a stronger will on the part of China to exert its influence on North Korea, to avoid an escalation of what we have seen over the last few weeks.

My Lords, given the uncertainty that exists about North Korea, not least after President Trump’s discussions yesterday with the Senate, if there is the possibility of military engagement by the United States against North Korea, would there be a situation similar to what the Foreign Secretary suggested this morning in relation to Syria, which would engage British troops? If that is the case, what attempts will be made to consult Parliament, given that the elected House will cease to exist in a very few hours’ time?

My Lords, it is a straightforward fact that the United States has made it clear that it is not seeking military action. It is installing a defensive missile system and working with allies in the area such as South Korea. What came across very strongly in the announcement by the Secretary of State in America yesterday is that the United States is seeking a peaceful resolution. It made it clear that it wants to bring North Korea to its senses, not to its knees.

I welcome the Minister’s response about the Security Council, but will she reassure us that when the Foreign Secretary is in New York, he will be in communication with his counterpart in the United States to ensure that these two great allies act in concert to ensure effective sanctions?