Last month, the United States persuaded China to sanction North Korea over its recent missile launch and nuclear test through the UN Security Council. It was an important achievement, and seemed to reflect the international pressure Beijing is feeling to distance itself from Pyongyang. Now, the UN sanctions sanctions are going into effect. Reuters:
China has barred a North Korean freighter from one of its ports and South Korea announced a crackdown on individuals and companies linked to Pyongyang’s weapons program, stepping up sanctions against the isolated state.
North Korean general cargo ship Grand Karo arrived at Rizhao port in northeastern China a few days ago, but the port did not allow the ship to berth, said a person at the Rizhao Maritime Authority, declining to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Meanwhile, South Korea has put in place its own unilateral sanctions:
“We will expand financial sanctions related to North Korea, including 38 North Korean individuals and 24 entities responsible for developing weapons of mass destruction, and two individuals and six entities of third countries that have indirectly supported the North,” a statement issued jointly by several ministries said.
Today North Korea has responded to these actions by proclaiming its ability to launch miniaturized nuclear warheads on missiles which can target South Korea and the United States. It’s a threat military analysts aren’t taking particularly seriously, but the saber rattling has put Beijing, which has long stood by its ally, once again in a tough spot. Although China continues to formally support sanctions, it has increasingly expressed concerns over their potentially destabilizing effects on the North Korean regime. Foreign Minister Wang Yi sounded particularly strident yesterday:
“China will not sit by and watch if there is fundamental destruction of stability on the Korean peninsula,” said Mr Wang at a briefing held during the National People’s Congress, the annual meeting of the country’s rubber-stamp legislature.
“China will not sit by and watch unwarranted damage to China’s security interests,” he added, urging all parties to “act with reason and care, and refrain from aggravating tensions”.
The unusually blunt Chinese remarks included “language that they use when their bottom line is pretty close to being reached”, said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Is China getting cold feet?