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With China’s support, UN tightens sanctions for N. Korea after latest nuke test

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 30, 2016

SEOUL, South Korea — With China’s support, the U.N. Security Council has slapped North Korea with a new round of punishing economic sanctions, months after the provocative country’s fifth and most powerful nuclear test.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it “the toughest and most comprehensive sanctions regime ever.”

But the resolution was passed during a turbulent time in U.S. and South Korean politics, raising questions about how effective measures will be until after President-elect Donald Trump takes office and makes his policies known.

Experts said a key test will be whether Beijing steps up efforts to enforce the new limits, which target the North’s hard-currency revenues by placing a cap on coal exports.

“The problem is not the sanctions. The problem is the enforcement,” said Bruce Bechtol, a North Korea expert and political science professor at Angelo State University in Texas.

For more than two decades, sanctions agreements and diplomatic pressure have failed to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. This year, Pyongyang has conducted two underground atomic explosions — on Jan. 6 and Sept. 9 — and test-fired two dozen ballistic missiles.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power acknowledged the challenges in a statement explaining Wednesday’s vote.

“In March, this council passed what were then the toughest sanctions to date on [North Korea]. But [the North] remained as determined as ever to continue advancing its nuclear technology,” she said.

Power outlined how Pyongyang has gotten around the sanctions: by diverting revenue from exports to fund research, trying to cover up business dealings abroad and looking for openings to smuggle illicit materials.

But she insisted: “Today’s resolution systematically goes after each of these illicit schemes.”

The centerpiece is the cap on coal exports, which will be cut by at least 62 percent, or an estimated $800 million a year. The 15-nation council also banned Pyongyang from exporting cooper, nickel, silver, zinc, new helicopters and statues.

The resolution also took aim at the so-called “livelihood” exemption that allowed Chinese imports, clarifying that it’s only for people living inside North Korea, not Chinese people or companies doing business with the country.

Another significant change was the inclusion for the first time of a threat to suspend some or all of North Korea’s U.N. privileges if it doesn’t comply.

China, North Korea’s traditional ally and reportedly the only importer of its coal, said the sanctions struck a balance between punishing the regime while protecting the people.

“The resolution adopted by the council today demonstrates the uniform stand of the international community against the development by [North Korea] of its nuclear missile programs and forward the maintenance of the international non-proliferation regime,” China’s Ambassador Liu Jieyi was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

But Jieyi also criticized the planned deployment of an advanced U.S. anti-missile battery in South Korea as potentially destabilizing for the region. Beijing fears the system’s powerful radar could be used against its military.

China has shown increasing impatience with North Korea’s defiance and approved both sanctions resolutions. But critics have accused Beijing of not implementing the measures on the ground. China has in the past objected to sanctions because it fears they could cause a repeat of the famine that gripped the nation in the 1990s. Beijing is keen to avoid a humanitarian crisis that could lead to the toppling of the regime and send refugees flooding across its borders.

“The main problem is still going to be how China behaves, if it will pressure North Korea,” said Kim Joon-hyung, a professor of international studies in South Korea. “The question is whether China is totally in or if other countries pressure China to do that.”

He said North Korea is unlikely to react strongly to the resolution as it has in the past because of the current political climate.

“Right now, in Korea as well in the U.S., there’s a transitional period, and I think North Korea is adopting a wait-and-see attitude,” Kim said.

Trump has given little indication about what his North Korea policy will be, but he signaled during the election campaign that he might be willing to hold talks with leader Kim Jong Un.

The Obama administration has insisted the country abandon its nuclear weapons program before stalled negotiations could resume.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

The United Nations flag waves at Yokota Air Base, Japan. The U.N. Security Council slapped North Korea with a new round of punishing economic sanctions months after its fifth and most powerful nuclear test in September.
OSAKABE YASUO/U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

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