We’ve seen enough of China’s past conduct when it comes to U.N. resolutions aimed at North Korean proliferation that we ought to recognize duplicity when we see it. We should also know by now that our hapless U.N. Ambassador isn’t very good at recognizing that duplicity. That’s why the news that China is expected to vote for another U.N. Security Council resolution this morning underwhelms me. I even think I have a pretty good idea what China’s game is here.
Like I said before — China has enough spyware on our computers to see that the political climate in Washington on North Korea policy has shifted. It knows that its own stalling has put wind in the sails of people like Ed Royce, who know that the U.S. and its allies can do far more damage to North Korea through unilateral (and then multilateral) legislation than they can through the U.N. China has done everything to enable North Korea and nothing to restrain it, but it has used the U.N. quite effectively to restrain us from restraining North Korea.
China calculates that by agreeing to tougher-looking U.N. sanctions, it might take some wind out of Royce’s sails, give State and its friends in the Senate a basis to oppose legislative sanctions, and maintain its U.N. chokehold over the enforcement of sanctions against North Korea. In due course, when the Americans calm down, China will go right back to enforcing exactly nothing. Don’t fall for it. It’s a bait-and-switch:
The proposed new measures would explicitly ban the sale to Pyongyang of items coveted by North Korea’s ruling elite, such as yachts and racing cars, a council diplomat said on condition of anonymity. The draft also aims to make it more difficult for Pyongyang to move funds around the world. [Reuters]
So, six-plus years after UNSCR 1718 prohibited the sale of luxury goods to North Korea, China is getting around to clarifying that yachts and racing cars are also luxury goods. Good to know. Maybe next year, they’ll pass a resolution for gold-plated bathroom fixtures, vicuña wool socks, and whichever designer Ri Sol Ju is wearing this week. Compare this paltry list to the U.S. list of luxury goods in the Code of Federal Regulations (15 C.F.R. sec. 746.1 and supplement, in case you care to look it up).
If enforced — a very big “if,” that — this would be better:
She said the new sanctions would target “the illicit activities of North Korean diplomatic personnel, North Korean banking relationships, (and) illicit transfers of bulk cash.”
Or so Susan Rice said at a press conference, without providing any details.
[A] Security Council diplomat familiar with the measure, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the language may still be subject to revision, said it broke new ground with restrictions and prohibitions on North Korean banking transactions, new travel restrictions and increased monitoring of North Korean ship and air cargo. [N.Y. Times]
Here’s a little more on the inspections authority:
The council diplomat said that once the resolution is approved, states will be obligated to expel any North Korean agent of a U.N.-blacklisted entity and will be required to inspect suspicious North Korean cargo on their territory. Such inspections of North Korean vessels are currently voluntary.
“All States shall inspect all (North Korea-linked) cargo within or transiting through their territory …. if the State concerned has credible information that provides reasonable grounds to believe the cargo contains items the supply, sale, transfer, or export of which is prohibited,” the draft says. [Reuters]
Ships that refused inspection would not be permitted to dock. Of course, you don’t have to be a lawyer to see the loopholes in “credible information” and “reasonable grounds.” Oh, would someone please bring this to the attention of the corrections desk at the New York Times?
It would be the fourth Security Council sanctions resolution on North Korea, which has defied the previous measures with increasing belligerence. A vote was expected on Thursday.
Nope, fifth: 1695, 1718, 1874, 2087, and the next Groundhog Day, however It shall be numbered (don’t these guys check my sidebar before they write these things?).
American officials said privately that the latest resolution did not go as far as they would have liked, reflecting China’s insistence that the punitive measures remain focused on discouraging North Korea’s nuclear and missile behavior and avoid actions that could destabilize the country and lead to an economic collapse.
But the text was stronger than what some North Korean experts had anticipated, particularly the measures that could slow or frustrate the country’s banking activities and extensive dependence on cash payments in its trade with other countries.
“Going after the banking system in a broad brush way is arguably the strongest thing on this list,” said Evans J. R. Revere, a former State Department specialist in East Asian and Pacific affairs, and now senior director at the Albright Stonebridge Group, a Washington-based consulting company. “It does begin to eat into the ability of North Korea to finance many things.” [N.Y. Times]
Whatever is in this draft, “western diplomats” sound confident that it will pass, plus-or-minus a few tweaks. If so, I’ll probably start reading it after work, which means I probably won’t have time to digest and analyze it until this weekend.
This isn’t to say that this resolution is worse than nothing, like 2087 was. After I read it, I’ll know, but it will never be a substitute for well-enforced U.S. and allied legislation providing for tough sanctions against non-compliant entities and nations. A U.N. resolution will provide the impetus for tougher enabling legislation and better enforcement in Japan, Europe, and Southeast Asia. It will not mean anything to countries like Syria and Iran. With respect to China, where implementation matters most, a new resolution will be just as unenforceable as the old ones unless Congress “helps” China — and the Chinese banks and companies that also do business with the United States — to enforce it. If Tuesday’s hearing was any indication, most members of both political parties are ready to offer that help.
Another big question is South Korea and its participation in the Kaesong Industrial Park. I see growing international pressure for the South to either extract some real financial transparency out of Kaesong — ie., put a mechanism in place to use 100% of the proceeds to buy corn and provide commodities directly to the workers there — or shut the place down. Park will want to resist that, right up to the moment North Korea changes her mind by doing something stupid.
As I read this resolution, I’ll be asking myself what the objective is. Is it really to end North Korea’s nuclear program, or is it just to make it a little less convenient for North Korea to cheat for another year or so? If your objective is the former, nothing short of putting the North Korean economy into what amounts to international receivership will do it. If the latter, then we’re still on the same trajectory we’ve been on since at least 2006, and we can all see where that leads. It will mean more rounds of whack-a-mole, whereby a sanctions committee receives a report on some prohibited activity, spends two months investigating it, spends another eight months fighting Chinese stalling and blocking, and finally adds a few suspect individuals and entities to some list long after they’ve moved on and folded up their booths.
To be effective, sanctions have to be (1) comprehensive enough to cover all sources of North Korean funds that could be used for prohibited purposes, (2) flexible enough to catch fly-by-night operators, (3) burden-shifting, such that the burden is on North Korea to prove the permissible use of the funds.
Correction: Sung Yoon Lee reminds me of another resolution from way back in 1993. So the actual number is now six.