China suggests sanctions relief for N. Korea after US summit

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their meeting at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Singapore. (Kevin Lim/The Straits Times via AP)

BEIJING — China suggested Tuesday that the U.N. Security Council consider suspending or lifting sanctions against North Korea if the country is in compliance with U.N. resolutions and making progress in diplomatic negotiations.

Hours after talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the Security Council's sanctions against North Korea were designed to be adjusted and could be suspended or lifted in accordance with the North's actions.

The Security Council could consider loosening or lifting sanctions on North Korea "in accordance with the compliance of the (North Korean) side and the development of the situation," Geng said at a daily briefing in Beijing.

"Sanctions are not an end," he said. "We believe the Security Council should make efforts to support the diplomatic efforts at the present time."

The Chinese position echoes comments made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who called for a lifting of sanctions during a May visit to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital. U.S. officials believe that harsh sanctions have been instrumental in the "maximum pressure campaign" to bring Kim to the negotiating table.

Trump ruled out immediate sanctions relief for North Korea after his meeting with Kim, saying it would come "when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor."

China, North Korea's main ally, accounts for more than 90 percent of the isolated country's trade, and China's participation is widely seen as crucial for international sanctions to have any bite. Bilateral trade has plunged in recent months as China ratcheted up enforcement of the increasingly tough restrictions ordered over the North's missile and nuclear weapons tests.

In the past, China has been accused of skirting sanctions to prop up the North Korean government — an accusation it vigorously denies. Geng said Tuesday that China has been following the U.N. sanctions resolutions "comprehensively, accurately and strictly."

But Trump suggested that China has already been relaxing trade controls.

"Over the last two months the border is more open than it was when we first started," Trump told reporters in Singapore.

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