It has been almost three weeks since North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test, but China and the United States have not yet reached agreement on the text of a new UN Security Council resolution condemning the country.
In the aftermath of the fourth nuclear test, the Security Council took almost two months to come up with a resolution; the average number of days between a North Korean provocation and a Security Council resolution was 27 during the Obama administration’s tenure. Based on the growing length of time following UN condemnation of North Korea’s successive tests since 2006, North Korea’s leadership probably feels affirmed in its judgement that it can effectively exploit geostrategic distrust between the U.S. and China.
Moreover, North Korea seeks to use impending transitions in the U.S., South Korea and even at the United Nations to flout UN Security Council resolutions with impunity. Immediately following North Korea’s fifth nuclear test, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter publically noted that China “shares important responsibility for this development and has an important responsibility to reverse it.”
In response, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson. Hua Chunying, said that “[w]hoever started the trouble should end it” and that the U.S. should “take on its due responsibility.”
Sino-U.S. differences over the implementation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system persist, and the task of hashing out agreement on a new UN Security Council resolution condemning North Korea appears to have taken a back seat to the crisis in Syria.
A new UNSC resolution
On the positive side of the ledger, China cooperated with the U.S. to crack down on the Hongxiang company, which has been revealed to have engaged in and facilitated illicit transactions and dual use shipments of sensitive chemicals for North Korea’s missile and nuclear development as part of the $500 million in trade over five years that the company has conducted with North Korea. These developments have been facilitated in part by two new sanctions reports, evaluated by Steph Haggard, here and here.
Negotiations on a new UNSC resolution are reportedly focused on closing “livelihood” loopholes on shipments of North Korean coal products to China and tightening restrictions on North Korean overseas labor to other countries, Sino-DPRK tourism, or exports of North Korean textiles to China. However, it will be necessary to reach out and touch leadership assets and interests to get the attention of Kim Jong Un.
What we should do to strengthen sanctions
If such sanctions do not prove to be effective due to China’s inability or unwillingness to enforce them properly, the U.S. should be prepared to take the following measures unilaterally:
1. Impose secondary sanctions on Chinese steel companies that use North Korean coal products. Chinese companies should not be allowed to take advantage of cut-rate North Korean coal to unfairly enhance their competitive advantage in the international market while facilitating North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. Chinese consumers of North Korean coal are therefore legitimate targets of U.S. secondary sanctions.
2. Target Chinese small and medium enterprises that continue to do business as usual with North Korea. There are companies similar to the Hongxiang group that play a gateway role for both legitimate trade and embedded North Korean procurement of dual use items. A recent study by John Park and Jim Walsh on North Korean sanctions evasion techniques highlights North Korean efforts to embed cut-out companies as customers in Chinese procurement networks as a primary means of sidestepping sanctions.
3. Push Chinese authorities to crack down Chinese banks that deal with North Korean citizens since they use multiple personal accounts containing millions of dollars for state purposes. Since opening an account requires identification, Chinese authorities should be able to identify and cut off all North Korean account holders. If necessary, impose secondary sanctions on these banks.
4. Strengthen implementation of shipping sanctions to impose a de facto quarantine on North Korea. A report by Asan Institute for Policy Studies and Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS) highlighting the role of China’s Hongxiang company in sanctions evasion recommends proactive monitoring of North Korea’s foreign flagged fleet to ensure enforcement of the existing UNSC resolution, drawing particular attention to data showing that Cambodia and Sierra Leone are flags of choice for the North Korean shipping fleet.
The debate we must make North Korea have
Despite external efforts to strengthen the international sanctions regime, there is precious little evidence to suggest that Kim Jong Un hears or cares more about efforts by external actors to convince him to reverse course than he cares about the internal factors that have led him to embrace nuclear development.
In this respect, sanctions remain a blunt instrument to the extent that they have thus far failed, in combination with other measures, to induce a more active internal debate within Pyongyang over the question of whether North Korea’s survival without nuclear weapons is a viable option.
This post originally appeared on Forbes Asia. See the original post here.