US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday UN member states enforcing the Korean War armistice are concerned that China and Russia are helping North Korea expand its military capabilities by enabling Pyongyang to evade UN sanctions.
Austin was speaking at a meeting in South Korea with defence ministers and representatives from the 17 countries that make up the UN Command (UNC) – the body that oversees the armistice.
“We are deeply concerned that the PRC and Russia are helping the DPRK expand its capabilities by enabling it to evade sanctions from the UN Security council,” Austin said, referring to the People’s Republic of China and North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“We’re also troubled by the recent growth in military cooperation between Russia and the DPRK,” he said.
Washington has accused North Korea of supplying military equipment to Russia for use in its war with Ukraine, and Moscow of providing technical military support to help the North.
North Korea and Russia have denied any arms deals, though their leaders pledged closer military cooperation when they met in September in Russia’s far east.
China, North Korea’s closest ally, has said it was complying with international obligations.
The UNC is expected on Tuesday to renew a pledge to respond to any North Korean aggression and to adopt a joint statement on a united response in the event of a “contingency” on the Korean peninsula, South Korea’s defence ministry has said.
Defence Minister Shin Won-sik said Pyongyang had been warned not to attempt any aggressive acts, noting that unlike in 1950, when the Korean War broke out, North Korea is now a member state of the United Nations.
“If North Korea ever invades the South again, it will be self-contradictory, where a UN member state would be attacking the UN Command,” Shin told the meeting. “If the countries that backed North Korea during the Korean War ever try to help again, then those countries will also receive grave punishment from the international community along with North Korea.”
China and the Soviet Union backed the North in combat against UN member states led by the United States. China and North Korea are parties to the armistice with the UNC.
The 17 member countries of the UNC, which include the United States, Britain, Australia and Turkey, sent troops or contributed medical support during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Established in 1950, the UNC was mandated to restore peace and enforce the armistice while acting as a channel of communication with North Korea.
It is led by the commander of the US military stationed in South Korea.
North Korea on Monday called the UNC “a US tool for confrontation” that has nothing to do with the United Nations and an “illegal war organisation” that must be dissolved if the outbreak of a new war on the Korean peninsula is to be prevented.
On Monday, Austin and Shin agreed to revise a bilateral security agreement aimed at deterring North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats.
The defence chiefs also agreed to step up joint drills and cooperate with Japan to deter and better prepare for any North Korean attack.