Though they don’t seem to be changing North Korea’s behavior in the short-term, new sanctions were approved in early March that “will bite and bite hard,” according to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as quoted in a recent Yonhap News article.
South Korea has been pushing for stronger sanctions but is a minor player in what the clever Yonhap writer calls the “G-2” negotiations between the United States and China.
The sanctions include more rigorous inspections of North Korean transport vessels, restrictions on financial transactions and luxury imports, and a call to increase vigilance over North Korean officials abroad.
This round of sanctions was particularly noteworthy for China’s participation in shaping them, since China has traditionally been North Korea’s strongest ally. In the past, China has been criticized for being the weak link in global sanctions against North Korea, because it doesn’t matter much whether everyone else makes a commitment if North Korea’s closest neighbor and biggest trading partner stays idle.
This time China’s support for sanctions was drastically increased; this makes nations like the U.S. and South Korea, both of which argue for stronger restrictions since the 2013 nuclear tests, happy. South Korea’s ambassador to the UN said, “These are the strongest and most comprehensive sanctions on North Korea [yet]… China played a positive role.”
The actual implementation of sanctions, on the other hand, can leave something to be desired. Japan also has its eye on the sanctions’ success, as reported by the Yomiuri Shimbun. They write, “we hope the new measures will prove effective by being implemented thoroughly.”
It may be a vain hope, though; back in another article in Yonhap’s pages, Moon Heung-ho, professor at Seoul’s Hanyang University, says that China “is unlikely to take a maximum approach to implement the sanctions.”
Since the sanctions North Korea’s government has seemed to increase its threats toward South Korea and the United States. Most recently, North Korea claimed it tore up the 1953 ceasefire agreement and cut off the long-standing telephone hotline between North and South Korea, as the LA Times reports. They don’t mention that North Korea has taken both actions, which are implied to be significant, several times before (see this Peterson Institute blog post).
Stronger sanctions with uncertain implementation, threats without apparent action; in the ever-increasing coverage of Korean peninsular news since Kim Jong Un’s rise to power, there is a lot of sound and fury. It is difficult to tell how much is signified.