China’s Wel­come Ac­tion on North Korea

Tougher sanc­tions may help slow Py­ongyang’s nu­clear am­bi­tions

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Bloomberg View -

Un­der the terms of a United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion ap­proved on March 2, coun­tries will have to in­spect any cargo go­ing into or com­ing out of North Korea. Sales of con­ven­tional weapons and avi­a­tion fuel to the North will be pro­hib­ited, along with its ex­ports of gold, titanium, and rare earth min­er­als. More than 30 peo­ple and en­ti­ties will be added to a UN black­list for travel and trade.

It’s promis­ing that China has agreed to the tough res­o­lu­tion, de­spite re­cent fric­tions with the U.S. and its al­lies. As North Korea’s main trad­ing part­ner—ac­count­ing for nearly 80 per­cent of its im­ports and ex­ports—china will be crit­i­cal to mak­ing the new mea­sures bite. In re­cent weeks, some en­cour­ag­ing but un­con­firmed re­ports have sug­gested the Chi­nese may al­ready be tight­en­ing up on cross-bor­der trade.

That said, Chi­nese en­force­ment of pre­vi­ous res­o­lu­tions has been in­con­sis­tent. The new sanc­tions re­port­edly al­low North Korea to con­tinue sell­ing coal and iron ore—its top two ex­ports— as long as the prof­its aren’t used for il­licit weapons pro­grams.

Even if the Chi­nese put ex­tra­or­di­nary pres­sure on their ally, the sanc­tions can­not be ex­pected to force all the changes the world wants to see in Py­ongyang. They won’t dis­suade leader Kim Jong Un from pur­su­ing a work­ing, nu­clear-tipped bal­lis­tic mis­sile that can reach the U.S. They’re also un­likely to lure him back into six-party talks to de­nu­cle­arize the Korean Penin­sula.

What the sanc­tions can do is slow the North’s weapons pro­grams and re­in­force in­ter­na­tional re­solve to block Kim’s am­bi­tions. China’s new co­op­er­a­tive­ness ap­pears to be driven in part by a de­sire to pre­vent the de­ploy­ment of U.S. an­timis­sile de­fenses in South Korea. Talks on this pro­gram should con­tinue, not least to en­cour­age China to en­force the sanc­tions. The U.S. should foster co­or­di­na­tion with Ja­pan so that the al­lies’ re­spec­tive mis­sile de­fenses re­in­force one an­other.

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