North Korea should take the latest series of sanctions as a clear warning the international community will not condone its nuclear and missile provocations.
The past week has seen actions taken to impose the most extensive-yet sanctions on the North Korean regime, which test-fired last month two ballistic missiles that were seen as capable of reaching the US mainland.
One such action was taken by the US, as President Donald Trump signed a bill on a package of sanctions against North Korea, Russia and Iran. Most noteworthy is that the US bill calls for a ban on exports of oil and petrochemical products, which are of paramount importance for the country to run itself.
Then the UN Security Council adopted a new resolution which, as US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said, is the “single largest economic sanctions package” ever leveled against the North.
The resolution imposes a blanket ban on North Korean exports of key mineral resources like coal, iron and lead. Seafood was added to the embargo list for the first time.
Resolution 2371 calls for capping the number of North Korean workers overseas -- which is believed to be about 50,000 in about 40 countries -- and restricts all new joint ventures with the country.
In addition, the resolution, the eighth of its kind since 2006, added four entities and nine North Korean individuals to the UN blacklist. Altogether, the latest UN sanctions are expected to cut Pyongyang’s exports by about $1 billion, or one-third of the annual total.
As with other resolutions, the key is how the UN and the international community follow up on the new and already-in-place punitive measures. Nevertheless, the latest sanctions indeed are “the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation,” as Haley commented.
Another good point is that the US somehow succeeded in persuading China and Russia -- both permanent members of the UN Security Council -- to endorse the resolution.
The former Cold War allies of North Korea stood in the way of the UNSC adopting a new resolution when Pyongyang successfully test-launched what is believed to be the first ICBM on July 4.
Of course, the North’s test of another ICBM just 24 days later left the two UNSC permanent members little room to oppose punishment of North Korea. Yet, the US administration’s diplomatic maneuvers deserve some credit.
Most of all, the Trump administration did well in using trade issues with China as a bargaining chip. Trump and his aides who had openly linked China’s efforts to rein in North Korea with US-China trade pressured Beijing by talking about possibility of Washington’s trade retaliation when diplomats at the UN were discussing new resolution against the North.
As it stands, however, the latest resolution retains the biggest loophole in economic sanctions against the impoverished North, as it failed include ban on exports of oil and petrochemical products to the country.
The fact that an oil embargo against the North has been included in the new US bill makes one believe the US-drafted UN resolution failed to include it due to objections from China and Russia.
Both countries also made it clear there was little change in their basic position, as they demanded the cancellation of the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in South Korea.
This calls on the UN and international community to make sure China and Russia faithfully abide by the UN-imposed sanctions against Pyongyang.
If past experience is any guide, the chances are low North Korea will give in to international pressure and stop its weapons of mass destruction programs and return to the negotiations table.
As Ambassador Haley said, the latest sanctions would not be able to solve the North Korean problem. Yet implementation of the new and existing sanctions is important not only to strain the resources for the North’s nuclear and missile development programs. It is also important to maintain international consensus that it should be ready to take additional measures if the North makes another serious provocation.