Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, right, walks with South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong Kun after their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea.

The Associated Press

America’s No. 2 diplomat on Friday expressed sympathy for North Koreans facing hardships and food shortages linked to the coronavirus pandemic and renewed calls for the North to return to talks over its nuclear program.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has recently warned of a “tense” food situation and admitted his country faces “the worst-ever” crisis. But his government has steadfastly insisted it won’t rejoin the talks unless Washington drops its hostility.

“We all feel for the people of the DPRK, who are indeed facing all the most difficult circumstances given the pandemic, and what it means as well for their food security,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters in Seoul, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Story continues below advertisement

“We only hope for a better outcome for the people of the DPRK,” she said.

Sherman spoke after meeting South Korean officials, during which both reaffirmed that they will continue diplomatic efforts to convince North Korea to return to the nuclear talks.

“We are looking forward to a reliable, predictable, constructive way forward with the DPRK,” Sherman said. “We have offered to sit and dialogue with the North Koreans, and we are waiting to hear from them.”

Speaking beside Sherman, South Korea’s first vice foreign minister, Choi Jong Kun, said, “We’ll wait for a North Korean response with patience as now is the coronavirus period.”

The talks between Washington and Pyongyang have made little headway since early 2019, when a second summit between Kim and then-President Donald Trump collapsed due to wrangling over U.S.-led economic sanctions. Kim has since threatened to bolster his nuclear arsenal and build more sophisticated weapons unless the Americans lift their hostile policy, an apparent reference to the sanctions.

Some experts say North Korea may be compelled to reach out to the United States if its economic difficulties worsen. Outside monitoring groups haven’t reported any signs of mass starvation or social chaos in North Korea. In recent speeches, Kim has called for his 26 million people to brace for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions, indicating the country wasn’t ready to reopen its borders despite the massive toll on its economy.

South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers this month that North Korea hasn’t received any foreign coronavirus vaccine. COVAX, the U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, said in February that North Korea could receive 1.9 million doses in the first half of the year. But UNICEF, which procures and delivers vaccines on behalf of COVAX, said recently that North Korea hasn’t even completed the paperwork for receiving the vaccines and that it was unclear when they could be delivered.

Story continues below advertisement

After Seoul, Sherman is to travel to Mongolia and then China, the North’s last major ally and benefactor. She will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit China since President Joe Biden was inaugurated in January.

During her visit to the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin on Sunday, Sherman said she will discuss North Korea with Chinese officials, saying Beijing “certainly has interests and thought” on it.

“The Biden administration has described our relationships with China as obviously a complicated one. It has aspects that are competitive, it has aspects where it is challenging and aspects where we can co-operate,” she said. “And thinking together about bringing the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is certainly an area for co-operation.”

Choi said China knows it can play “a very important role” in efforts to bring back North Korea to talks. He said Sherman’s China trip would be “very meaningful” and that Seoul and Washington have a shared responsibility for Beijing to play its role.

Ahead of the meeting with Sherman, China has adopted a confrontational tone, reflecting the sharp deterioration in relations that began under Trump and continued under Biden.

The U.S. is “defining China as a competitor, provoking confrontation, and containing and suppressing China’s development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing in Beijing. “The U.S. side has been calling for dialogue with China from a position of strength, which only reflects its arrogance and hegemony.”

Story continues below advertisement

The Foreign Ministry later announced sanctions against seven Americans, which it called a response to U.S. sanctions last week against seven Chinese officials in Hong Kong and a warning to U.S. companies about the risks of doing business in the semi-autonomous territory.

The sanctioned Americans include former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch. The ministry did not specify what the sanctions would be.

“We’re undeterred by these actions,” U.S. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a news briefing Friday. “These actions are the latest examples of how Beijing punishes private citizens, companies and civil society organizations as a way to send political signals and further illustrate (China’s) deteriorating investment climate and rising political risks.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies