Thu, Jun 13, 2019 - Page 7 News List

US ‘gift’ to China questions N Korea sanctions efforts


The meeting between acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and his Chinese counterpart began with all the hallmarks of a routine, staged and scripted session between two uneasy rivals.

First came the posed photograph, as the two men shook hands with broad smiles in front of their nations’ flags, and then they moved quickly into the hotel conference room, surrounded by staff. There, Shanahan presented Chinese Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe (魏鳳和) with a gift.

However, what at first glance looked like a coffee table book was actually 32 pages of photographs and satellite images of North Korean ships getting and delivering shipments of oil. Many of the photographs are stamped with dates, times, locations and descriptions, and, according to officials, represent proof that Pyongyang is breaching punishing economic sanctions right off China’s coast.

“I gave him this beautiful book,” Shanahan said a day after his meeting with Wei and his top staff at a national security conference in Singapore. “I said: ‘This is an area where you and I can cooperate.’”

The pointed message from the acting Pentagon chief comes as the administration of US President Donald Trump is at odds with China over a wide range of issues, including the possible sale of US weapons to Taiwan, bilateral trade, alleged Chinese theft of US technology and how to pressure North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons program.

China agreed to the UN sanctions against its ally and neighbor North Korea, but, as the photo book illustrates, appears to be allowing breaches to take place.

Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Joe Buccino said that Shanahan devised the book to show that enforcement of UN sanctions off the Chinese coast is “an area for potential coordination and collaboration” with the Chinese military.

A US defense official said that Shanahan had the photographs and information in the book declassified and bound.

Shanahan presented the book to Wei at the start of their meeting, saying that he had a gift for the minister, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting.

Wei initially appeared taken aback at receiving a gift, but when he realized what it was he quickly turned it over to his staff, the official said.

In the meeting, Shanahan told Wei that the US and Chinese navies could work together to prevent such breaches of the UN sanctions, the official said.

“It’s actually very clever,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China power project at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s really calling out China. This is a way of telling them that we know what’s going on, we have quite a bit of evidence, and here’s an opportunity for you to expand cooperation with the United States.”

Glaser, who also attended the Singapore conference, said that she spoke with members of the Chinese delegation, and they described the meeting between Shanahan and Wei as positive and upbeat.

However, no one mentioned the book, she said.

“I think it was probably embarrassing,” Glaser said. “They probably thought they were getting something wonderful, that would highlight something positive, not something calling out China for their failure to step up and crack down on North Korea.”

The oil and trade sanctions against North Korea have hurt its already struggling economy, and Russia and China have called for easing them.

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