China holds the keyThe UN Security Council on Nov. 3 adopted a tougher resolution to punish North Korea for its fifth nuclear test after 82 days of deliberations. Despite some dilution of the draft due to disagreements among permanent council members, the resolution contains a couple of groundbreaking clauses. The most noticeable is one that limits the total sum or quantity of North Korean coal exports to 38 percent of its revenues in 2015 — $403.6 million or 7.5 million tons. The resolution demands the application of the lesser amount from the two options.
The resolution also contains clauses blocking the North from exporting other minerals such as silver, copper, nickel and zinc. The UN’s move will most likely deal a heavy blow to cash-strapped North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. If those measures are implemented, Pyongyang is expected to suffer an annual loss of $800 million.
On top of that, South Korea, the United States and Japan are poised to put separate unilateral sanctions on the North after the resolution failed to fully meet their expectations. The separate sanctions include the expansion of existing financial sanctions and tougher regulation of entries of North Korean officials to those three nations. If the countries carry out the additional measures by the book, it could help the North come to the bargaining table.
But that’s not enough. China, a permanent member of the Security Council, must strictly respect the new resolution given its track record of deviating from one resolution after another.
Even after the adoption of the new resolution, Liu Jieyi, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations, said that the sanctions should not affect North Korea’s normal trade activities and ordinary citizens’ lives. His remarks can be interpreted as Beijing’s intent to ease UN sanctions down the road when the need arises.
Regardless of tougher sanctions, the resolution still has many loopholes. For instance, there are doubts about whether coal importers would really report the exact quantity and cost of their imports. Local governments also may not follow their central government’s directives due to an urgent need to develop their own economies.
Therefore, South Korea must keep a close watch on any potential violation of the resolution. If the government discovers that Chinese authorities or their businesses are ignoring the resolution, our government must strongly protest to Beijing. We must also overcome our domestic political crisis quickly to maintain international cooperation on the North Korean nuclear issue.
JoognAng Ilbo, Dec. 2, Page 30