China Getting Tough on North Korea is Not an Illusion
By Sam Stolle
China has long been accused of enabling North Korea. As North Korea launches missiles off its coast and over Japan, tests another nuclear device, and engages in increasingly tense ‘saber-rattling’ with the United States including mutual threats of nuclear annihilation, China grows increasingly unhappy. Now it is applying pressure.
In February, China announced a ban on coal imports from North Korea according to the South China Morning Post.
Since the beginning of 2017, China has implemented sanctions in line with United Nation Security Council (UNSC) decisions and provided support for new sanctions.
After a North Korean missile launch on May 29, China joined in passing a UNSC resolution condemning the launch and putting in place an asset freeze and travel ban on individuals involved in North Korea’s nuclear program.
After a North Korean missile launch on July 28, China joined in unanimously passing another UNSC resolution banning North Korean exports of “coal, iron, iron ore, seafood, lead and lead ore to other countries” and the opening of new economic and financial ventures with North Korea or North Korean nationals. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce released two separate announcements, first on August 16 and next on August 28, concerning the UNSC resolution’s implementation.
On August 29, China condemned North Korea in another UNSC resolution. China most recently joined in another resolution passed on September 11 after North Korea’s latest nuclear test on September 3.
In the latest round of sanctions, China agreed to ban textile exports from and certain petroleum imports to North Korea. According to a report by The Guardian on September 23, China has announced that the sanctions will come into effect completely by October 1. The resolution also prohibited countries’ use of North Korean workers for labor.
On September 28, the Associated Press reported that China has ordered North Korean companies operating in China to close by January 2018.
While China has hardened its attitude towards North Korea, its core objectives have not changed. China does not want North Korea to collapse nor does it want a possible nuclear war right next door.
In an analysis by the BBC, China’s position was summarized as “stability at home and its own firm grip on power. Its current assessment is that these objectives are best advanced by keeping Kim Jong-un in place. So while China does not want a nuclear North Korea, it wants a North Korean collapse even less and it will resist any sanctions which risk that outcome.”
China favors a diplomatic approach, and sanctions serve to bring North Korea back to the negotiation table. Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, in an address to the UN General Assembly on September 21 stated, “Negotiation is the only way out, which deserves every effort. Parties should meet each other half way, by addressing each other’s legitimate concerns” as recorded by Reuters.
A few days earlier in September, Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, reported a Foreign Ministry spokesperson calling for “suspension for suspension” and a “dual track approach” to North Korea.
“Suspension for suspension” refers to North Korea giving up missile launches and nuclear tests in exchange for the ceasing of U.S.-South Korea military drills. The “dual track approach” refers to focusing on denuclearization and peace negotiations separately.
China does not intend to destroy North Korea. It has sought and continues to seek a diplomatic solution. However, with the increased tension and possibility of escalation, China has made clear through its support and implementation of sanctions that it is tired of North Korea’s behavior.