Experts express doubt over how strictly the latest attempt to slash North Korea’s earnings from coal, iron ore and seafood will be enforced.
And even if the new sanctions do cut export revenues by more than a third — as the U.S. expects — will that be enough to make Kim change course on developing nuclear missiles? “Probably not,” said John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in South Korea. “Because one thing [North Korea is] good at is taking pain.”
The U.N. Security Council has hit North Korea with layer after layer of sanctions since 2006, but the moves have failed to thwart the country’s nuclear ambitions. North Korea has “an impressive track record over its whole history, going back to the 1940s when it was founded, of being able to … weather virtually any kind of economic pressure,” Delury told CNN. “This is not the kind of regime that is easy to bring to its knees.”
The new U.N. resolution goes further than previous sanctions by aiming to cut deeper into the wider North Korean economy. It received the backing of China, North Korea’s main ally and economic partner, but some analysts are skeptical Beijing will fully comply in practice.
“The $1 billion number depends on China implementing the U.N. sanctions, we … have 11 years of evidence they will not do so,” tweeted Anthony Ruggiero, a former official at the U.S. State and Treasury departments.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged the problem of enforcement on Monday, telling reporters that the U.S. would be “monitoring that carefully and certainly having conversations with any and all that we see who may not be fully embracing not just the spirit of those sanctions but the operational execution of those sanctions.”
Beijing has found itself caught between Trump’s demands to put greater pressure on Kim’s regime and its own desire to keep North Korea as a strategic buffer against U.S. influence in the region. By supporting the latest U.N. resolution, Beijing may have dodged — for the time being — U.S. sanctions against Chinese companies that are suspected of doing business with the North Korean regime.
However, any breathing room China has gained isn’t likely to last long, according to Tong Zhao, a fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing.