Unlike Iran, North Korea has been impervious to international efforts to force it to forswear the use of nuclear weapons. But new sanctions approved by the United Nations Security Council last week offer at least the possibility of altering North Korea’s behavior. Much will depend on whether China, North Korea’s patron, enabler and largest trading partner, follows the letter and spirit of the resolution it supported.
The measure was prompted by North Korea’s test in January of what it characterized as a hydrogen bomb, as well as repeated missile test launches. But North Korean defiance of the international community stretches back years. Neither previous sanctions nor diplomacy have induced the reclusive regime in Pyongyang to end its nuclear program.
But even as it strengthens sanctions, the resolution leaves their enforcement to U.N. members. As a practical matter, that means North Korea will feel the pressure only if China takes its responsibilities seriously, rather than circumventing the sanctions on the pretext of avoiding “adverse humanitarian consequences.”
China may not be able to dictate policy to North Korea’s unpredictable leader Kim Jong Un. But it provides a lifeline to him and his inner circle and props up the country’s infrastructure. If it’s serious of about calming tensions on the Korean peninsula, it will use that considerable influence.