China hints at tougher UN sanctions on North Korea
Beijing might support partial ban on oil supplies to neighbour in aftermath of nuclear test, analysts say
China has given its strongest sign yet that it will support tougher sanctions on North Korea, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying on Thursday that the United Nations Security Council had to take steps to rein in Pyongyang.
Wang did not specify what measures China would take or whether China would agree to cut oil supplies to its neighbour.
But he did say that “given the new development on the Korean peninsula, China agrees that the UN Security Council should make a further response by taking necessary measures”.
Wang said China resolutely opposed North Korea’s nuclear test on Sunday, and Pyongyang should “have a clear understanding of the situation”, make a “correct choice” and stop its provocations.
He said sanctions were only half of the solution – the other half was dialogue and negotiations.
Diplomatic observers said Beijing might impose a partial ban on oil supplies to Pyongyang and restrict trade to further limit North Korea’s sources of foreign income.
Wang’s comments came after Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump spoke on the phone on Wednesday night. In the call, Xi condemned Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test but said talks and peaceful means were the way to solve the crisis.
State-run Xinhua said the two leaders also discussed economic and security ties, a sign that Beijing does not want North Korea to dominate Sino-US relations.
After the phone call, Trump said a military option was not the US’ first choice in resolving the issue. But Xi agreed that they “will not be putting up with what’s happening in North Korea”, the US president said.
“President Xi would like to do something. We’ll see whether or not he can do it,” he said.
“I believe that President Xi agrees with me 100 per cent. He doesn’t want to see what’s happening there, either.”
The United States and its allies are pushing for a global oil embargo on North Korea, which gets most of its fuel from China, as well as some from Russia and Iran.
In a call to British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump said North Korea was a “threat to global peace”.
A spokesman for May said: “The prime minister and the president agreed on the key role which China has to play, and that it was important they used all the leverage they had to ensure North Korea stopped conducting these illegal acts so that we could ensure the security and safety of nations in the region.”
Russia, which has veto power on the Security Council, has said it opposes cutting off its oil shipments, which amount to less than 40,000 tonnes a year.
Chinese analysts said it was unlikely that Beijing would support a full oil embargo but a partial cut in supplies could be one option to keep its neighbour in check without bringing down the Kim Jong-un regime.
Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor of international studies at Renmin University, said Beijing would probably support tougher UN sanctions to stop further North Korean provocations.
“The phone conversation between Trump and Xi indicated that the two nations would still cooperate,” Cheng said. “It’s possible the UN Security Council will adopt sanctions on oil supplies.
“The UN can’t just pass a restrained resolution.”
Zhao Tong, a North Korean affairs expert at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre, said Beijing could tighten restrictions on North Korea’s sources of foreign currency with bans on textile exports and all North Korean labourers working abroad.
North Korea exported US$147.5 million of garments to China in the second quarter, Chinese customs data showed.
But it would be too risky for China to cut off all oil supplies to its neighbour because it could lead to a collapse of North Korea’s economy and even the whole regime, Zhao said.
“I think it would be very hard for China to make a decision to fully cut off [oil supplies],” he said.
“But China could take relatively mild measures on oil.”
In a resolution passed unanimously on August 5, the UN Security Council banned imports of North Korean coal, lead, iron and iron ore and seafood. It also banned signatories from hiring and paying more North Korean labourers.
But Pyongyang detonated a hydrogen bomb on September 3, two days before the final deadline for the sanctions, crossing what is believed to be a red line for Beijing.