Congressional Research Service: China Ignoring U.N. Sanctions on N. Korea

A Foreign Policy blog links to what looks to be a very interesting report from the Congressional Research Service (in pdf) on the effect of, and various nations’ compliance with, international sanctions against North Korea. Considerate fellow that I am, I decided to link the report so you could start reading it before I even find the time to read it myself.

Not surprisingly, China’s compliance gets low marks:

The report makes clear that China has almost zero interest in enforcing important elements of the sanctions regime, particularly measures directed at stopping the flow of luxury goods into North Korea, a measure designed to inflict pain on the regime’s ruling elite. “While China officially has supported UNSCR 1874,” the report concludes, “it appears to be concerned primarily with the sanctions related to the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs but not the economic and financial sanctions targeted at the higher echelons of North Korean society.”

More surprisingly, the report admits that U.S. enforcement has also been spotty:

It notes that the United States approach to implementing sanctions — and aggressively monitoring other countries’ implementation — has varied considerably as optimism about diplomatic openings has waxed and waned. “A number of administration officials agreed”¦ that the intensity with which they push for tough implementation of sanctions, at least in public, has been and likely will continue to be calibrated depending on whether there are positive developments or setbacks in diplomacy with North Korea.” This is an important point, and it suggests that the carrot-and-stick game between Washington and Pyongyang that preceded adoption of sanctions continues in a more muted form: The administration downplays sanctions when there’s diplomatic progress, but when these avenues appear blocked, the United States beats the drum about sanctions implementation.

It’s a lot harder to get other nations to comply when you’re setting a bad example yourself. True, China’s policy is based largely on malice and a desire to harm U.S. interests, so the American example probably means little in that case. But for other countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and even the Middle East, the credibility of consistent enforcement matters to our own efforts to persuade other nations to comply. Just as U.N. sanctions must be applied multilaterally, they also need to be relaxed multilaterally. This is why it strikes me as odd that John Bolton, the architect of the Proliferation Security Initiative and UNSCR 1718 is tarred as a unilateralist, while Chris Hill, who was given a free hand to ignore both unilaterally and offend our most important allies, isn’t.


  1. From the Congressional Research Service Report I got the impression that China wants to preserve the DPRK regime but wants it to give up the nuclear weapon program. If the DPRK tests another nuke, we’ll know that I’m wrong about that second point.


  2. Thanks, Joshua. Your memory is so much better than mine. Anyhow, I think Obama’s North Korea policy is the best we’ve seen in decades. If I’m wrong on that too, please correct me.