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Korean Peninsula

Volume 783: debated on Tuesday 5 September 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what new initiatives they are taking to ease tensions in the Korean Peninsula.

My Lords, the United Kingdom is seeking a peaceful resolution to the tensions on the Korean peninsula. We strongly condemn the nuclear test conducted by North Korea on 3 September. It poses an unacceptable threat to the international community. We will continue to work with our international partners to maximise pressure on North Korea’s leadership to change direction and stop its destabilising action.

I thank the Minister for those remarks but does she not agree that Britain’s contribution would be far more effective if it was part of a European contribution—from a European community—rather than trying to effect it as an offshore island?

In response to the noble Lord, it is helpful to look at such evidence as we have. He will be aware that there has been a sequence of United Nations Security Council resolutions, most recently Resolution 2371, which was unanimously supported and adopted on 5 August. There has been a powerful global response to North Korea and these sanctions appear to be working, which is the important point. There is evidence that there is now a cutting-off of North Korean exports such as coal, iron and certain seafood.

I notice a whisper of scepticism arising across the Chamber but, going back to facts, the United Nations estimates that it is currently affecting $1 billion-worth of North Korean exports, which is one-third of its exports.

My Lords, I declare an interest as co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for North Korea. While a nuclear-armed rogue state which treats its own people shamelessly is undoubtedly anathema, a catastrophic war would be even worse. Does the Minister agree that, along with containment, deterrence and sanctions, especially incentives to China to turn off the flow of oil and perhaps play a crucial role in convening a Beijing peace conference, the realistic lesson of the Cold War is that beyond mutually assured destruction was a formidable campaign to systematically encourage change from within? Is the greatest current danger not the law of unintended consequences, whereby a rogue missile or ugly bellicosity could have devastating and lethal consequences for millions of innocent people?

I thank the noble Lord for, as ever, his very insightful and forensic question. It is perfectly clear that the global community, as reflected by the United Nations and particularly its Security Council, believes that the correct approach to this is a mixture of diplomatic and economic measures. Going back to what I detected was some scepticism about the effect of the sanctions, perhaps I might quote from what the UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Matthew Rycroft, said yesterday. He said that it is clear that these sanctions,

“are having an effect … Those who doubt this impact need only read the statements coming from the North Korean regime”.

The measures to date are having an effect. As the noble Lord is aware, the UK Government are currently in discussion with our global partners as to what further steps we might take, but there is evidence that North Korea is beginning to feel the tourniquet of these sanctions.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group. Following the successful deployment of RAF Typhoons to Japan, will the Government look at further potential deployments of both the RAF and the Royal Navy to show our solidarity with the people of Japan?

I say to my noble friend that such options will always be under consideration by any Government but at the moment, as I have indicated, the emphasis has to be on trying to apply diplomatic and economic pressure to North Korea, to persuade it that its actions are unhelpful, illegal and destabilising. Perhaps most importantly, they are certainly not in the best interests of the North Korean people.

My Lords, what is clear about this crisis is that it requires statesmanship and not brinkmanship. To pick up on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, over the weekend Chancellor Merkel and President Macron issued a joint statement on the crisis, condemning particularly the new testing of a hydrogen bomb. It appears that our Prime Minister was omitted from that statement. Can the Minister give us some reason why that was the case? Why are we not focusing on building a stronger case with our European allies on this question?

Of course, many of our European allies are members of the United Nations, and therefore part of the global community that is endeavouring to address this issue. It is very alarming, disquieting and disturbing, but we are endeavouring to address it in a manner that will have an effect. As I have indicated, there is now evidence that these measures are having an effect. It is important that all the major powers in the world keep speaking to one another and considering how best we can maximise that pressure on North Korea, particularly within the forum of the United Nations. The Prime Minister was in Japan last week and talked to the Japanese Prime Minister about the issue. The noble Lord will be aware that the Foreign Secretary spoke to the South Korean Foreign Minister on 3 September, and he has had recent discussions with his US, Japanese and Chinese counterparts. Very recently, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has summoned the North Korean ambassador to enable us to condemn the missile tests. He has today again summoned the ambassador, in relation to the most recent test.

Are sanctions that affect only the ordinary people of North Korea, who have not chosen to eat grass, in the words of Vladimir Putin, actually effective? What efforts are Her Majesty’s Government undertaking to try to ensure that future sanctions target the leader, not the people, of North Korea?

The noble Baroness is right to allude to a very natural concern about the plight of the people of North Korea. There is every reason to imagine that their plight is very grave indeed. She will also be aware that North Korea is a regime where it is extremely difficult for foreign powers to engage in dialogue or to intervene. We maintain the presence of our British ambassador in Pyongyang, and he is regularly in conversation. We know that there are human rights abuses in North Korea and we have condemned them unreservedly. Our concern is considerable because there have been appalling human rights situations in North Korea, and I share the noble Baroness’s concern. The UK is doing whatever it can through diplomatic channels to exercise influence.