• Kyodo

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Officials from the United States, Japan and South Korea on Monday urged China to play a bigger role in dissuading North Korea from further human rights infringements.

“If we do not have China in the battle line of sanctions, the impact would be limited,” Katsunobu Kato, the Japanese minister handling the issue of Pyongyang’s past abductions of Japanese, told a think tank event in Washington.

Kato said China still has enormous influence over North Korea given its “overwhelmingly” large amount of trade and the significantly heavy flow of money between the two countries.

Leaders from the United States, Japan and South Korea as well as China have on several occasions reiterated the importance of implementing the economic sanctions authorized by U.N. Security Council resolutions over North Korea’s nuclear tests and rocket launches.

“I think the North Koreans are feeling the pressure,” Robert King, special U.S. envoy for North Korean human rights issues, said at the event.

The pressure prompted North Korea to send Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong to the United Nations after the Security Council adopted a resolution in early March, including tougher sanction measures, King said.

The council passed the resolution in protest at Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test in January and a rocket launch in February, which many countries suspect was a covert test of ballistic missile technology.

Lee Jong-noon, South Korean ambassador for human rights issues, expressed hope China will improve its treatment of people fleeing North Korea.

“China does not recognize them as refugees. They round them up, send them back to North Korea” knowing that they will be prosecuted, Lee said at the event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Grace Jo, a former defector from North Korea, and Koichiro Iizuka, the son of Japanese abductee Yaeko Taguchi, also took part in the event.

The Japanese government claims North Korea abducted at least 17 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s. It has called for the secretive country to clearly explain the whereabouts of those still not returned and send them all back.

Disputes over the long-standing issue have prevented Tokyo and Pyongyang from normalizing ties.