Doubts over new ‘compromise’ UN sanctions on North Korea as China emerges unscathed
Resolution fails to land big blow by stopping short of oil embargo on Pyongyang and penalties for Chinese firms that aid North Korea, observers say
Beijing scored diplomatic points with its endorsement of tougher United Nations sanctions against North Korea, avoiding a showdown with Washington over Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear provocations.
But the UN Security Council resolution was unlikely to bring the unruly Kim Jong-un regime back into line given the glaring compromises that left China largely unscathed, observers said.
Chinese state media and foreign ministry officials added to doubts about the effectiveness of the resolution passed on Saturday, saying sanctions were not the only way to solve the problem and livelihood of the North Korea people should not be destroyed.
In contrast, top diplomats from major powers hailed the resolution adopted unanimously by the 15-member council as a key step towards halting Pyongyang’s nuclear brinkmanship.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday that the new US-proposed resolution, which could cut off about one-third of North Korea’s roughly US$3 billion in annual exports, showed that world powers were united behind a push for a denuclearised Korean peninsula.
“It’s quite clear in terms of there being no daylight between the international community as to the expectation that North Korea will take steps to achieve all of my objectives, which is a denuclearised Korean peninsula,” he said.
But Tillerson said Pyongyang must halt ballistic missile tests if it wanted to talk to Washington about resolving the stand-off.
Beijing has renewed its appeals for the parties to resume dialogue instead of resorting to threats of military force and sanctions.
In a front page commentary on Monday, the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said North Korea had to be punished for flouting UN rules with its missile launches but sanctions also had to be targeted to avoid hurting ordinary people or other countries.
“A precision blow is the essential part of sanctions,” it said.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang echoed the message, calling on all parties to lower tensions while limiting the impact on such non-military goods as food and humanitarian aid.
Analysts said China and Russia seemed to have got their way because the resolution made no mention of a much-anticipated oil embargo on North Korea, which could deal a devastating blow to Pyongyang.
Instead, the sanctions cover North Korean exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood. The resolution also prohibits countries from expanding intakes of North Korean labourers, bans new joint ventures with North Korea and makes any new investment in existing joint ventures off limits.
Bonnie Glaser, from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, described the resolution as a win for China because “Beijing avoided additional sanctions on Chinese banks, entities that aid North Korea for the time being”.
Anthony Ruggiero, a former US government adviser to six-party talks with North Korea, said the resolution failed to advance US proclaimed policy and was even counterproductive.
“China and Russia are playing a different game and accepted ‘tough’ sanctions to avoid US sanctions on their own companies. The only way to change North Korea’s path is robust sanctions against China and others that aid North Korea,” Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said on Twitter.
Zhang Liangui, a Korean affairs expert at the Central Party School in Beijing, was also critical of the resolution, which he said was a product of diplomatic compromises.
“It’s too early to say if the resolution will have any effect at all. If North Korea continues to pursue its nuclear programme, which is extremely likely, then it’ll just be another failure on the part of the entire international community,” Zhang said.
Lee Ji-yong, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy’s Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in Seoul, agreed.
“I don’t think the resolution is going to work because despite its official rhetoric and stance, Beijing has never banned Chinese companies from doing business with North Korea. I don’t think things will be any different this time,” he said.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Reuters