China’s Welcome Action on North Korea
Tougher sanctions may help slow Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions
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.