China has announced a series of trade sanctions against North Korea as a response to recent nuclear testing. Pyongyang had conducted a fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch in February, making trade sanctions necessary in pressuring the North Korean government to slow down. This motion is in line with the United Nation’s sanctions on the self-isolated nation. While the country is rich in minerals, it relies heavily on imported oil, mostly from China.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 31, 2016
North Korea’s economy is mostly dependent on its mining sector, with imports of coal, iron, gold, titanium, vanadium, and rare earth metals being its major sources of revenue. North Korea exported over 20 million tons of coal to China in 2015, making it China’s third biggest coal supplier ahead of Russia and Mongolia. Meanwhile, North Korea imports jet fuel and other oil products for various purposes, including the manufacture of rocket fuel.
This announcement is the latest in a series of motions that indicate changes in the People’s Republic of China’s policy towards the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, a nation it had been in diplomatic relations with since 1949. China had aided North Korea at a confidential capacity for decades by providing supplies that may have helped with the latter’s military programs. However, relations between the two countries have started to show cracks for quite some time now.
These sanctions by China and other nations are aimed to limit resources for North Korea’s nuclear and ballistics programs, as well as revenue that goes into its military expenditures. This seems to make a clear statement that Beijing does want Pyongyang to halt its nuclear ambitions. However, there are exceptions to the trade bans, including shipments intended for “the people’s well-being” that are not linked to any North Korean military effort.
Officials in the U.S. State Department have expressed optimism in the greater effectiveness of these sanctions this time around in curtailing North Korea’s nuclear program, especially since China seems to be willing to support their efforts. Beijing had been unwilling in the past to hear out demands by Washington and other governments to have China lay down trade sanctions against North Korea to dampen their nuclear efforts. China’s diplomats reasoned that such sanctions could have potential humanitarian ramifications.
The U.N. Security Council had been approving sanctions that included inspections of cargo going both in and out of the country as a response to the ongoing nuclear tests, as well as calling on all nations to “redouble their efforts” in enforcing trade sanctions of their own as well. Meanwhile, North Korea had called for a meeting with the Security Council on March 17 over ongoing U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises.
Chinese President Xi Jinping had attended the 4th Nuclear Security Summit on April 1 in Washington along with leaders from 51 other countries. Four international organizations were involved, including the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The summit was focused on addressing current global nuclear security issues and bolstering the world’s nuclear security architecture, and it resulted in a joint communique between China and the U.S. The trade sanctions on North Korea were then imposed a few days later.
Meanwhile, China itself may have to prepare itself for whatever might happen to North Korea due to sharing borders with the fellow communist nation. Foreign affairs analysts believe China had been reluctant to impose such crippling sanctions on North Korea due to fear of having to deal with a flood of refugees as a result of Kim Jong-un’s government being destabilized. China has usually been the first destination for those who choose to flee the hermit nation, and it’ll most likely be where refugees will run to if something catastrophic ever happens in the country.
As for North Korea itself, the recent leak of the Panama Papers may offer some explanation as to how they were able to evade sanctions. Mossack Fonseca may have had clients who were subject to international sanctions, including North Korea.
[Photo by Lee Jin-man/AP]