North Korea’s failed missile test on Sunday provides an opportunity for the United States to press for more stringent sanctions and for China to demonstrate its willingness to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
Even though the missile blew up, the attempted launch was a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
This means the US can now ask for additional sanctions. Clearly, those in place aren’t enough. If they were, North Korea wouldn’t have been able to conduct over the years five nuclear tests and a series of ballistic missile tests.
Frenzied ICBM programme
The Pyongyang regime is working overtime to develop a long-range missile capability, one that will enable it to deliver a nuclear weapon to the continental United States.
China has close economic ties with North Korea, despite UN sanctions, which is why US President Donald Trump went out of his way to woo the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, in recent weeks.
Trump offers ‘great deal’
When Trump hosted Xi at Mar-a-Lago earlier this month, the American leader made an unusual offer. “You want to make a great deal?” he asked Xi. “Solve the problem in North Korea.” In return, he said, the US will accept trade deficits with China.
After Xi’s return to China, Trump continued to pressure him. On April 11, he tweeted: “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!” That night, Trump called Xi up on the phone and the two men discussed North Korea again.
The following day, Trump tweeted that he “had a very good call last night with the President of China concerning the menace of North Korea”. But Xi in Beijing said that he had urged Trump to seek a “peaceful solution”.
From China’s standpoint, a peaceful solution means not only sanctions but a return to talks between the US and North Korea. Talks are no doubt needed but sanctions haven’t been given a chance, mostly because the sanctions regime is full of holes.
Earlier this month, China’s General Administration of Customs said that the country’s trade with North Korea grew 37.4 per cent in the first quarter of this year. China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner. Beijing argues that sanctions don’t prohibit trade. That’s true as far as it goes.
But even advanced foreign technology finds its way into Pyongyang via China, despite sanctions, and the Chinese government doesn’t seem to be doing much to stop this.
A UN panel of experts reported last month that debris from a North Korean long-range rocket contained several foreign-sourced commercial items, including ball bearings from a Chinese manufacturer, Beijing East Exhibition High-Tech Technology Co Ltd. The panel reported also that pressure transmitters had come from a company identified as Beijing Xinjianteng Century Technical Technology.
No wonder North Korea has been able to make such progress, despite ostensibly draconian sanctions. By keeping one eye closed while its businesses supply the North with banned technology, Beijing is enabling North Korea to become a nuclear power.
In February, after North Korea tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile, six US senators wrote a joint letter calling on the trump administration to determine China’s role in aiding and abetting North Korea.
The US – and the UN – must move beyond sanctions against North Korea itself to sanctioning foreign nationals and entities who are providing the wherewithal for the country to achieve its nuclear ambitions.
Clearly, there is much room for tighter implementation of sanctions, by China and some other countries. In the UN panel’s words, approval of sanctions wasn’t matched “by the requisite political will”.
Trump is right in one thing. It is China’s job to deal with North Korea, which is a Frankenstein’s monster nurtured by China.
There are signs that perhaps, at this late date, China may be prepared to take serious action.
Global Times, a state-run newspaper, published an unusual editorial last week in which it proposed that restrictions be placed on North Korean oil imports. This is an interesting idea, considering that China is the main source of North Korea’s crude oil.
“If the North makes another provocative move this month, the Chinese society will be willing to see the United Nations Security Council adopt severe restrictive measures that have never been seen before, such as restricting oil exports to the North,” the editorial said.
Now the US can propose, and China can endorse, strengthening sanctions to include oil. This is a rare opportunity for Xi to show that China is serious about reining in North Korea. Sanctions against Chinese entities may be next.