Written By: Karl Kawders
China has recently announced a series of sanctions against their neighbor, North Korea. The sanctions restrict imports of North Korean raw materials along with Chinese sales of jet fuel and other oil products. The announcement comes amid rising tensions between the two countries; Chinese president Xi Jinping has increasingly distanced himself from the North Korean regime. President Obama recently stated that both China and the United States were “committed to the [denuclearization] of the Korean Peninsula”. The recent decision by the Chinese government raises serious questions for Pyongyang about their relationships with traditional allies and threatens their regional power. Unfortunately, these sanctions strengthen the North Korean position and will work against America’s goal of a nuclear-free Korea.
The Chinese sanctions are not actually a major threat to North Korea. Many news outlets and western media sources have painted these sanctions as a major rift in relations between the two nations. However, the sanctions are not very effective due to the loopholes left open by China. One example allows for the North Korean export of coal; China has stated that the North Korean export of coal is permissible so long as the money is being used for the “livelihood” of North Korean citizens and not for nuclear armament. This leaves open a Chinese lifeline for North Korea; the export of coal is North Korea’s main source of income and allows it to purchase necessities such as oil and food. China is making a show of punishing North Korea, but has not in practice made a significant impact on the North Korean economy since already most of the money from coal trade goes directly towards the livelihood of the people. The coal loophole reduces the impact of these sanctions greatly. Pyongyang will realize that the sanctions are an international relations demonstration, rather than a true shift in relations with its largest neighbor.
With the understanding that the sanctions will not significantly affect the North Korean economy, Pyongyang can tighten their isolationist and aggressive position that they have held in years past. President Obama is hoping that a rift in Sino-DPRK relations will put a stranglehold on Kim Jung Un’s government and force them to slow or end their nuclear program. Yet, without true economic consequences, Pyongyang is encouraged to accept these sanctions and continue their defiant attitude. In fact, these sanctions are a win-win for China and the DPRK. President Xi Jinping can demonstrate to the West that China is working to end North Korean armament. Kim Jung Un can show his people the ‘strength” of his country in the face of Chinese and Western pressure. Unfortunately, the only loser in the new sanctions is the United States. Until China truly hurts the North Korean economy, the US and global community at large will continue to be unable to stop North Korean aggression.
China North Korea Border, Digital Image, TheStar.com, Accessed April 24, 2016