China voted for new North Korea sanctions. Will it enforce them?

The real test will be in China's follow-through on 'little brother' North Korea.

A North Korean man works atop a utility pole as a soldier man on a post along the river bank of the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite side of the Chinese border city of Dandong, Wednesday. The UN Security Council responded swiftly to North Korea's latest nuclear test by punishing the reclusive regime Thursday with tough, new sanctions targeting its economy and leadership, despite Pyongyang's threat of a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States.

When the UN Security Council imposed new and harsher sanctions on North Korea yesterday to punish it for its most recent nuclear test, one big part of the story was the fact that China had gone along with the resolution.

But that may prove not to mean very much.

Beijing’s vote was widely seen as a signal of just how impatient China is getting with its “little brother,” who has been getting more and more wayward in recent months, launching missiles and detonating nuclear devices despite public Chinese warnings not to do so.

But the Chinese vote was only the start of the story, point out Victor Cha and Ellen Kim, Korea analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

“The real test of China’s commitment will be in the follow-through. Will it not just sign on to sanctions, but will it enforce them with vigor?” the experts asked in an emailed briefing.

The initial signs are not encouraging.

(Read more about why China is unlikely to come down too hard here.)

The spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Qin Gang, posted to the ministry website his government’s official position on the resolution on Friday. It went on for four wordy paragraphs. It made not one single mention of sanctions.

Chinese companies make a handsome profit from trade with North Korea, which depends on China for nearly four-fifths of its imports. Most of that trade is perfectly legal, but some of it appears not to be. Luxury items that are meant to be banned from North Korea seem to find their way across the Chinese border without any difficulty, for example.

And the UN panel of experts monitoring compliance with previous sanctions resolutions has found evidence that banned exports from and imports to North Korea have moved through the Chinese port of Dalian.

“In the past, China-DPRK trade has increased in the aftermath of UN sanctions,” say Drs. Cha and Kim. “One hopes that this will not be the case again.”

For the record, here is the CSM’s unofficial translation of Mr. Qin’s statement:

“The UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2094 on March 7th Beijing time over the issue of the DPRK’s third nuclear test.

 As a close neighbor of the Korean peninsula, China has worked hard to ensure nuclear nonproliferation on the Korean peninsula and maintain Northeast Asian peace and stability. China supports the UN Security Council’s necessary and proper response to North Korea’s nuclear test.

China believes the UN Security Council’s relevant action should be helpful to maintain peace and stability on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia.
UN Security Council resolution 2094 showed the international community’s position against North Korea’s nuclear test and meanwhile promised to solve the Korean peninsula issue in a peaceful manner via dialogue and negotiation, and reiterated support for the restart of  six-party talks. Generally speaking, the resolution is balanced. China takes an objective and impartial position and played an important and constructive role during discussion of the resolution.
Maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia accords with the common interest of the international community. China urges relevant parties to remain calm and restrained and refrain from taking any action that could escalate tensions, and calls for all parties to stick to negotiations and seek denuclearization of the peninsula within the framework of the six-party talks and to explore effective ways to attain lasting peace and stability in the region. China will continue to make unceasing efforts towards these goals.”

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