Archive for the ‘China – North Korea sanctions evasion’ category

Trump may mull naval blockade, no-fly zone against N. Korea: expert

May 24, 2018

Published : May 23, 2017 Korea Herald

Source Link: Trump may mull naval blockade, no-fly zone against N. Korea: expert

{Naval blockade? If this happens, I’m going to need plenty of popcorn. – LS}

The Donald Trump administration may push for naval blockades or the imposition of a “no-fly” zone against North Korea should it succeed in developing an intercontinental ballistic missile, an expert here said Tuesday.

Trump would view it as a red line for the nuclear-armed communist nation, according to Shin Beom-chul, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul.

In case of the North’s successful development of ICBMs, “Taking military actions against Pyongyang will be the most appealing option on the table from Trump’s perspective,” he said in a paper released to media ahead of a security forum to be co-organized by Korea National Defense University and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (foundation).

The forum will be held in Seoul on Wednesday with the theme of “The New US Administration and Its Alliance Relations: Change and Continuity.” Shin plans to give a presentation at the conference.

Shin pointed out that Trump will be restrained from launching a direct military strike against the North due to concerns about massive retaliatory attacks.

“He can still create military tensions through other options without carrying out a direct military attack on North Korea,” the professor said. “That is, military operations, naval blockades, and the imposition of a no-fly zone could also escalate tensions in Northeast Asia.”

For these reasons, he added, attention needs to be paid to the US decision to keep deploying its aircraft carrier Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the East Sea after May.

Another key question is how China and Russia will respond to such US actions if taken.

Both Beijing and Moscow may seek to avoid a direct military confrontation with the US and step up efforts to nudge Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table on its nuclear program, Shin said.

Or they may try to check such unilateral military actions by the US, creating military tensions among the regional powers and exacerbating the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, he said.

If regional players fail to manage pending risk factors, he added, Northeast Asia is likely to slide into the vortex of armed confrontations. (Yonhap)

Expect America’s Tensions with China and Russia to Rise in 2018

December 30, 2017

Expect America’s Tensions with China and Russia to Rise in 2018, Gatestone Institute, John Bolton, December 30, 2017

Yesterday’s 2017 review and forecast for 2018 focused on the most urgent challenges the Trump administration faces: the volatile Middle East, international terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Today, we examine the strategic threats posed by China and Russia and one of President Trump’s continuing priorities: preserving and enhancing American sovereignty.

Russia and China will be among the Trump administration’s key strategic challenges in the coming year. Photo: Wikipedia.

China has likely been Trump’s biggest personal disappointment in 2017, one where he thought that major improvements might be possible, especially in international trade. Despite significant investments of time and attention to President Xi Jinping, now empowered in ways unprecedented since Mao Tse Tung, very little has changed in Beijing’s foreign policy, bilaterally or globally. There is no evidence of improved trade relations, or any effort by China to curb its abuses, such as pirating intellectual property, government discrimination against foreign traders and investors, or biased judicial fora.

Even worse, Beijing’s belligerent steps to annex the South China Sea and threaten Japan and Taiwan in the East China Sea continued unabated, or even accelerated in 2017. In all probability, therefore, 2018 will see tensions ratchet up in these critical regions, as America (and hopefully others) defend against thinly veiled Chinese military aggression. Japan in particular has reached its limits as China has increased its capabilities across the full military spectrum, including at sea, in space and cyberwarfare.

Taiwan is not far behind. Even South Korea’s Moon Jae In may be growing disenchanted with Beijing as it seeks to constrain Seoul’s strategic defense options. And make no mistake, what China is doing in its littoral periphery is closely watched in India, where the rise of Chinese economic and military power is increasingly worrying. The Trump administration should closely monitor all these flash points along China’s frontiers, any one of which could provoke a major military confrontation, if not next year, soon thereafter.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is where China has most disappointed the White House. Xi Jinping has played the United States just like his predecessors, promising increased pressure on Pyongyang but not delivering nearly enough. The most encouraging news came as 2017 ended, in the revelation that Chinese and American military officers have discussed possible scenarios involving regime collapse or military conflict in North Korea. While unclear how far these talks have progressed, the mere fact that China is engaging in them shows a new level of awareness of how explosive the situation is. So, 2018 will be critical not only regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons threat but also whether Sino-American relations improve or take a distinct turn for the worse.

On Russia, the president has not given up on Vladimir Putin, at least not yet, but that may well come in 2018. Putin is an old-school, hard-edged, national interest-centered Russian leader, defending the “rodina” (the motherland), not a discredited ideology. Confronted with U.S. strength, Putin knows when to pull back, and he is, when it suits him, even capable of making and keeping deals. But there is no point in romanticizing the Moscow-Washington dynamic. It must be based not on personal relationships but on realpolitik.

No better proof exists than Russia’s reaction to Trump’s recent decision to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, which is now a war zone entirely because of Russian aggression. To hear Moscow react to Trump’s weapons decision, however, one would think he was responsible for increased hostilities. President Obama should have acted at the first evidence of Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine, and even Trump’s aid is a small step compared to President Bush’s 2008 proposal to move Kiev quickly toward NATO membership. Nonetheless, every independent state that emerged from the Soviet Union, NATO member or not, is obsessed with how America handles Ukraine. They should be, because the Kremlin’s calculus about their futures will almost certainly turn on whether Trump draws a line on Moscow’s adventurism in Ukraine.

Just as troubling as Russia’s menace in Eastern and Central Europe is its reemergence as a great power player in the Middle East. Just weeks ago, the Russian Duma ratified an agreement greatly expanding Russia’s naval station at Tartus, Syria. In 2015, Obama stood dumbfounded as Russia built a significant air base in nearby Latakia, thus cementing the intrusion of Russia’s military presence in the Middle East to an extent not seen since Anwar Sadat expelled Soviet military advisers and brought Egypt into the Western orbit in the 1970s.

This expansion constitutes a significant power projection for the Kremlin. Indeed, it seems clear that Russia’s support (even more than Iran’s) for Syria’s Assad regime has kept the dictatorship in power. Russia’s assertiveness in 2017 also empowered Tehran, even as the ISIS caliphate was destroyed, to create an arc of Shia military power from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, linking up with Hezbollah in Lebanon. This Russian-Iranian axis should rank alongside Iran’s nuclear-weapons program on America’s list of threats emanating from the Middle East.

Finally, the pure folly of both the U.N. Security Council and the General Assembly crossing the United States on the Jerusalem embassy decision was a mistake of potentially devastating consequences for the United Nations. Combined with the International Criminal Court’s November decision to move toward investigating alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, there is now ample space for the White House to expand on the president’s focus on protecting American sovereignty.

Trump’s first insight into the rage for “global governance” among the high minded came on trade issues, and his concern for the World Trade Organization’s adjudication mechanism. These are substantial and legitimate, but the broader issues of “who governs” and the challenges to constitutional, representative government from international bodies and treaties that expressly seek to advance global governing institutions are real and growing. America has long been an obstacle to these efforts, due to our quaint attachment to our Constitution and the exceptionalist notion that we don’t need international treaties to “improve” it.

No recent president has made the sovereignty point as strongly as Trump, and the United Nations and International Criminal Court actions in 2017 now afford him a chance to make decisive political and financial responses in 2018. If 2017 was a tumultuous year internationally, 2018 could make it seem calm by comparison.

John R. Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs at the U.S. Department of State under President George W. Bush. He is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

This article first appeared in The Hill and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

UNSCR 2375: What Just Happened Here?

September 16, 2017

UNSCR 2375: What Just Happened Here? 38 North, September 15, 2017

(This is about the watered-down UN Security Council resolution imposing more sanctions on North Korea. Essentially, the Security Council poked North Korea with a feather. North Korea’s response was probably to giggle. Please see also, H.R. McMaster: ‘There is a military option’ for North Korea and my parenthetical comment there about China — DM)

The bigger question is why the US went into this round of sanctions looking like it was ready to call China’s bluff by publicly putting forward a resolution that Beijing would have to veto. It appeared that Washington may have chosen to use the draft resolution as a way to justify applying secondary sanctions widely once the Chinese and/or Russians vetoed the draft. Instead, the US opted (wisely in this author’s view) to maintain Council and P-5 unity. But in terms of public perception, it now it appears to have blinked in the face of Chinese obstruction. It would be interesting to know what arrangements were made between the two capitals and whether this is an indicator of quiet Chinese action that will increase pressure on Pyongyang out of public view. There are reports, which this author cannot confirm, that several large state owned Chinese banks are winding up their North Korean operations. If it is not the case that more US-Chinese cooperation is going on behind the scenes, this author is left to wonder why the US put so much on the table publicly only to walk away with so little.

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On Monday evening, the United Nations Security Council quickly and unanimously passed another sanctions resolution against North Korea in a rapid response to its sixth—and strongest—nuclear weapons test just days earlier. In the context of past international sanctions and diplomatic actions in dealing with the North Korean nuclear and missile programs one could have applauded the rapid and unanimous action that will increase the economic price North Korea pays for its actions. After all, the resolution did not have to suffer the usual lengthy US-PRC and P-5 negotiations that have frequently delayed or even halted past UNSC responses. But, because the US released a much tougher draft and appeared to be headed towards a show down with Russia and China in the Council, outside observers are scratching their heads a bit over what was achieved and whether the US “won” or “lost” on the resolution. It looks like the US backed down, but it is possible there is more going on behind the scenes. Certainly the resolution itself is unlikely to be decisive.

For those who had hoped the US had finally gotten fed up with Chinese and Russian efforts to shield Pyongyang from regime-threatening pressure and would present them with a choice of accepting a tough resolution in New York or dealing with draconian secondary sanctions aimed at Beijing and Moscow, this resolution is bad news. For those who feared a rupture of P-5 unity, the eruption of a US-China trade war to overshadow the North Korea crisis and an end to any reasonable path to a diplomatic solution to the crisis, the resolution puts those bad outcomes off for another day. From a technical point of view, the resolution marginally ratchets up pressure on Pyongyang—although far less than the resolution’s authors would have us think.

The most interesting question—one this author is in no position to answer—is what happened between Washington and Beijing that shifted the resolution from one of confrontation to one of minor evolution in sanctions. As we look now to crafting a response to North Korea’s latest provocation—a second test flight of the Hwasong-12 over Japanese territory—it is important to know if UNSCR 2375 reflected some new understanding of a way forward shared by Washington and Beijing. If not, it is unclear what just happened here.

What Does The UNSCR Do?

The press has already reported on the key components of the resolution. These include:

  • New language on interdiction of North Korean ships (Operative Paragraphs 7-12);
  • A cap on petroleum and refined product imports to North Korea and a ban on natural gas imports (Operative Paragraphs 13-15);
  • A sun setting of all North Korean labor export arrangements and a reduction of most joint ventures (Operative Paragraphs 17-18); and
  • A ban on North Korean textile exports (Operative Paragraph 16).

It is unlikely that anything in these provisions will break the back of the North Korean regime. Indeed, while the provisions on petroleum and refined product may build a base for future action, the remaining sanctions are unlikely to do very much at all, in and of themselves, to increase pain on the DPRK.

Take, for example, the interdiction language. While the language may increase psychological pressure on that floating crap game that is the international system of providing flags of convenience to questionable shipping operators, it gives no new authority to those interested in halting illegal North Korean shipments of conventional arms, missiles, missile production equipment, or chemical weapons precursors to clients in the Middle East and Africa. The US has long believed it already had authority under international law to board and inspect vessels on the high seas if it had sound reasons to suspect they were carrying material prohibited by UN Security Council Resolutions, so long as the state flagging the vessel gave its permission. This new resolution simply restates what already exists under international law. It is a far cry from what the US proposed in its draft, which would have given member states the right to use force to board and inspect vessels suspected of carrying prohibited cargo under authority of the UN Charter. While that draft provision gave many of us pause, given the current level of tensions, it would have had the virtue of giving the US and others authority to deal with North Korea’s use of long-distance cargo ships delivering prohibited goods to a number of African and Middle Eastern clients who currently refuse to shut down their prohibited arms, missile and chemical weapons deals with Pyongyang. This resolution will not.

Similarly, the ban on textile exports looks like it will hit the DPRK hard. Trade statistics indicate North Korea earns hundreds of millions of dollars on textile exports. This, unfortunately, is likely an economic mirage. In fact, the North Korean textile trade is largely a labor export without moving the laborers. Garment manufacture is driven by one central factor: labor costs. Chinese manufacturers send production machinery, cloth and even zippers and buttons to North Korea and allow cheap, abused North Korean workers to assemble garments that are then re-exported to China. So while statistics may show hundreds of millions of dollars of textile exports, they should also show machinery and textile imports of significant value. The only real foreign exchange earnings involved for North Korea, therefore, will be the wages of the North Korean workers and the payments to their employers—far less than the hundreds of millions of dollars of paper earnings. If enforced, it is likely the textile trade with China will end as Chinese garment manufacturers find another Asian country with cheap labor to use, but the net economic impact on North Korea will be not very great.

The sun setting of true labor exports could—if it were enforceable—have a significant impact on North Korea’s foreign exchange earnings. However, it—like all foreign labor arrangements—is quite hard to enforce. One need only ask oneself how many foreign workers are harvesting crops or doing home construction in the US or working in low level service jobs in Europe to know how hard it will be to enforce this ban. (Estimates vary by millions of workers in both cases.) Moreover, the US and Europe have competent and honest customs and immigration services; the same cannot necessarily be said for Russia, China or the Middle East where most North Korean workers operate. Sadly, while this provision in the resolution may slow down the North’s earnings from the uncompensated labor of its people, it is more likely to force the business underground so that the workers may be subject to even greater abuse. At least the cost of abusing these workers will rise as their employers will likely have to make significant payoffs to various inspectors to have them look the other way when it comes to paperwork like work authorizations.

Much the same could be written about joint ventures. However, it may well be that this is one area where increased sanctions scrutiny will persuade reputable firms to look to less risky markets for investment opportunities. This is especially the case if the US is serious about ramping up its use of secondary sanctions against Chinese investors.

The headline sanction in the resolution, of course, involved oil and refined petroleum products. The provisions in the resolution fall far short of a ban on oil supply. They seek to impose a cap on petroleum and perhaps a cut in refined product imports. But the convoluted language of Operative Paragraph 14 indicates that the drafters and those they were trying to persuade had to sacrifice clarity for comity in order to get consensus language. Since no one really knows how much petroleum or refined product the DPRK is importing (estimates vary by over 20 percent between US and IEA statistics for instance), the most important result of this provision will be to require suppliers to report on their exports of refined product. (Sadly, crude shipments have no such reporting requirement so the cap on shipments of crude is really on the honor system.)  It will be interesting to see who is willing to step up and state they are in the refined product business with North Korea. Suppliers have an incentive to do so since future exports will be based on past exports. (Of course, they also have a disincentive since some oil is possibly being used as compensation for illegal North Korean exports of missiles, chemical weapons precursors or conventional arms.)

At a minimum, the sanction will thus give us greater clarity on the refined product issue. Will the caps in the resolution pinch the DPRK? It is unclear. There are some reports that the DPRK is already having difficulty importing refined product, perhaps because it cannot find financial channels with which to pay for the imports. Other experts insist the DPRK has sufficient stockpiles to ride out sanctions for the short and medium term and that it could substitute coal (of which it will have large amounts now that exports are banned) for some of its oil needs. The DPRK has shown vulnerability to heavy fuel oil shortages in the past. But, it also has shown a hard hearted willingness to let much of its population freeze in the dark if that is what it takes to keep gas in the fuel tanks of the leadership’s Mercedes. The best way to look at this provision is as a marker for possible future bans on oil supply.

Bigger Picture

The bigger question is why the US went into this round of sanctions looking like it was ready to call China’s bluff by publicly putting forward a resolution that Beijing would have to veto. It appeared that Washington may have chosen to use the draft resolution as a way to justify applying secondary sanctions widely once the Chinese and/or Russians vetoed the draft. Instead, the US opted (wisely in this author’s view) to maintain Council and P-5 unity. But in terms of public perception, it now it appears to have blinked in the face of Chinese obstruction. It would be interesting to know what arrangements were made between the two capitals and whether this is an indicator of quiet Chinese action that will increase pressure on Pyongyang out of public view. There are reports, which this author cannot confirm, that several large state owned Chinese banks are winding up their North Korean operations. If it is not the case that more US-Chinese cooperation is going on behind the scenes, this author is left to wonder why the US put so much on the table publicly only to walk away with so little.

Observers of this long-running crisis should take some heart that by maintaining Council—particularly P5—unity that there are still possibilities for US-Chinese cooperation to end this crisis diplomatically. They should be less impressed by UNSCR 2375’s potential for immediate impact.

U.S. Threatens to Cutoff China, Russia for Undermining Sanctions Against North Korea

September 12, 2017

U.S. Threatens to Cutoff China, Russia for Undermining Sanctions Against North Korea, Washington Free Beacon, September 12, 2017

(Please see also, UN Passes Mega-Ultra Toughest-Ever North Korea Sanctions, Again.– DM)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attends a meeting with a committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea about the test of a hydrogen bomb / Getty Images

“Unfortunately, I cannot tell the committee today that we’ve seen sufficient evidence of China’s willingness to truly shut down North Korea’s revenue flows, to expunge North Korean illicit actors from its banking system, or to expel the various North Korean middlemen and brokers who are continuing to establish webs of front companies,” he said.

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The Trump administration on Tuesday threatened to cut off from the U.S. financial system Chinese and Russian companies helping North Korea smuggle coal overseas to circumvent international sanctions on Pyongyang’s nuclear activities.

Marshall Billingslea, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, provided Congress with intelligence images mapping North Korea’s illicit shipping networks used to mask the origin of exported coal to China and Russia.

The images appear to expose China and Russia’s covert hand in undermining international pressure on the Kim Jong Un regime to give up its nuclear ambitions, despite the two nations voting publicly on several occasions at the United Nations Security Council to strengthen sanctions.

“North Korea has been living under United Nations sanctions for over a decade and it has nevertheless made significant strides toward its goal of building a nuclear tipped ICBM,” Billingslea testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, referring to the regime’s pursuit of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States mainland.

“I urge anyone in the financial services industry who might be implicated in the establishment of shell or front companies for [North Korea], and anyone who is aware of such entities, to come forward with that information now, before they find themselves swept up in our net,” he said.

The Treasury Department estimates North Korean coal shipments bring in more than $1 billion in annual revenue for the regime, in part enabling Kim Jong Un to generate income used to fund ballistic missile and nuclear programs. Though the UN Security Council over the past month has passed two separate sanctions packages targeting North Korea’s coal industry, illicit coal-smuggling networks through China and Russia have watered down the impact, according to the Trump administration.

Citing the intelligence images provided to Congress on Tuesday, Billingslea said North Korean shipping vessels routinely shut off their transponders in violation of international maritime law to avoid detection as they move from North Korea into Chinese or Russian ports to offload sanctioned coal.

The Treasury Department is also tracking North Korea’s effort to penetrate the international financial system through shell companies based in China and Russia to help conceal the regime’s overseas footprint. Billingslea warned the Trump administration will punish any company in violation of UN sanctions by choking it off from the U.S. financial market.

Though he lauded China for supporting a recent round of UN sanctions, he said Beijing has not yet shown it is serious about cutting off North Korean funding.

“Unfortunately, I cannot tell the committee today that we’ve seen sufficient evidence of China’s willingness to truly shut down North Korea’s revenue flows, to expunge North Korean illicit actors from its banking system, or to expel the various North Korean middlemen and brokers who are continuing to establish webs of front companies,” he said.

UN Passes Mega-Ultra Toughest-Ever North Korea Sanctions, Again

September 12, 2017

UN Passes Mega-Ultra Toughest-Ever North Korea Sanctions, Again, PJ MediaClaudia Rosett, September 12, 2017

(Eliminating Kim Kimchi Jong-un is not a viable solution. China won’t permit regime change and, if China did, there is no reason to assume that Kim’s replacement would be an improvement. Please see also, UN Security Council passes new sanctions against North Korea. Frank Gaffney offers some good ideas and they don’t involve more useless sanctions. — DM)

The fifteen members of the Security Council are seen voting in favor of the new sanctions at a United Nations Security Council meeting regarding nuclear non-proliferation in light of the September 3rd test explosion of a missile-capable nuclear bomb by the Democratic Peoples’ Republic Of Korea (DPRK), at UN Headquarters in New York, NY, USA on September 11, 2017. At the meeting, Council members voted upon a draft Resolution calling for increased economic sanctions against the DPRK. Resolution 2375 was unanimously adopted by the 15 members of the Council. (Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones)(Sipa via AP Images)

Unless the real mission behind these sanctions is to help achieve the only real remedy — which is to take down the Pyongyang regime (not bargain with it) — then beware.

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Yet again, the United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously for a resolution imposing the toughest-ever sanctions on North Korea. This round, responding to North Korea’s test of what Pyongyang claimed was a hydrogen bomb, goes by the label of Resolution 2375, and marks the ninth time over the past 11 years that the UN Security Council — voting unanimously — has approved new sanctions in response to North Korean nuclear and missile tests.

Each round has been tougher than the last. In March, 2016 for instance, following North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, the UN passed Resolution 2270, which former Ambassador Samantha Power described as “so much tougher than any prior North Korea resolution.” Less than nine months later, following North Korea’s fifth nuclear test, came UN Resolution 2321, hailed by CNN as “Toughest UN sanctions yet… .”

You get the idea. This parade of tough-tougher-toughest and tougher-than-toughest UN sanctions has been going on since the UN Security Council in 2006, following North Korea’s first nuclear test, unanimously approved Resolution 1718, imposing sanctions that President Bush described at the time as “swift and tough.”

I’m all in favor of being ultra-tough on North Korea (make that mega-ultra-jumbo-tough, even better). This latest round aims to constrict North Korea’s oil supply, ban its textile imports, curtail its smuggling and end its revenues from joint ventures and laborers working abroad. That’s on top of the web of previous strictures.

But by now one might begin to suspect that sanctions, however tough, are not going to stop Kim Jong Un’s nuclear missile program. It’s a bad sign that these UN resolutions, which routinely begin by listing the relevant previous resolutions, have now achieved a degree of layering that resembles portions of such monstrosities as the Affordable Care Act. The UN has not yet posted the full text of this latest resolution, #2375. But a reasonable proxy can be found in the prior resolution, passed on August 5. Just add one more layer:

“Recalling its previous relevant resolutions, including resolution 825 (1993), resolution 1540 (2004), resolution 1695 (2006), resolution 1718 (2006), resolution 1874 (2009), resolution 1887 (2009), resolution 2087 (2013), resolution 2094 (2013), resolution 2270 (2016), resolution 2321 (2016), and resolution 2356 (2017), as well as the statements of its President of 6 October 2006 (S/PRST/2006/41), 13 April 2009 (S/PRST/2009/7) and 16 April 2012 (S/PRST/2012/13),”

There are two basic problems here.

The first problem is that sanctions are not an airtight proposition. They are more like a sieve than an impermeable barrier. They leak. They erode. For sanctions violators, part of the game is to set up new fronts and devise new deceptions; part is to wait until the immediate crisis passes, and enforcement starts to flag. North Korea has long experience at evading and adapting to sanctions. So do its chief patrons, Russia and China. So does its partner-in-proliferation, Iran, and Iran’s mascot, Syria.

And whatever the reach and coercive financial power of the mighty U.S., it has not sufficed to date to persuade scores of UN member states to comply with the list of sanctions above. The UN fields a Panel of Experts on North Korea sanctions who have been turning in terrific, regular and hefty reports on compliance — or lack of compliance — by UN member states.

Three years ago, in their 2014 report, these experts noted that the problem was not lack of sanctions measures, but lack of compliance:

“At the present time, the Panel does not see new measures as necessary in order to further slow the prohibited programmes of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to dissuade it from engaging in proliferation activities or to halt its trade in arms and related materiel. Rather, the Panel believes that Member States already have at their disposal adequate tools.”

The UN requires its member states to submit “implementation reports” on how they plan to comply with UN sanctions. Out of the UN’s 193 member states, scores of countries simply don’t do it. Just last week, in an interim report dated Sept. 5, the UN Panel of Experts noted that for the two sanctions resolutions passed last year, the number of non-reporting states remains “significant” — as in, roughly half the UN membership.

Of course, even when countries do submit their implementation reports, that’s no guarantee that North Korea will be deprived of goods for its proliferation programs. For instance, while China has dutifully been filing the required reports to the UN, the Panel of Experts, in their Sept. 5 report, mentioned that North Korea’s military parade this past April included missiles transported on three-axle trucks that had a Chinese manufacturer’s logo on the fuel tank.

In response to the Panel, Chinese authorities provided an array of comments. They posited that such trucks, exported from 2010-2014, were “not under embargo of the Security Council.” They said the exporter and manufacturer of the trucks could not be identified, due to lack of “Vehicle Identification Number and other relevant information.” And they noted that the sales contract “requested explicitly ‘the buyer to ensure the civilian use of the trucks and comply with concerned provisions of Chinese laws and Security Council resolutions.’ “

Ummm…is that supposed to be reassuring?

For North Korea, yet more sanctions might indeed raise the cost of provisioning its nuclear missile program, and shrink the resources available — at least until the regime finds new ways to adapt. But North Korea’s regime has an unswerving record of placing its military and weapons programs above the needs of North Korea’s people. It’s highly unlikely that UN Security Council Resolution 2375 will persuade Kim to abjure ICBMs and hydrogen bombs, in favor of allocating resources to cold and hungry North Koreans.

Which brings us to the second big problem with these UN resolutions. They all aim, quite explicitly, to bring North Korea back to the bargaining table. This is an idea all too prevalent in Washington as well. In testimony on North Korea to the Senate Banking Committee last week, former Acting Secretary of the Treasury Adam Szubin summed it up, saying that sanctions “are meant to incentivize behavioral change.”

Dream on. If North Korea’s regime does come to the bargaining table, that might look like a change in behavior. But everything in the record by now should be telling us that North Korea won’t be coming to relinquish its nuclear missile program. It will be coming to cash in, again, on the illusions of American diplomats. It will be coming to cash in, yet again, on the blinkered expertise of a host of former U.S. officials now treated as sages of North Korea policy because they were intimately involved in nuclear deals… that failed.

Those bargains, and attempted bargains, stretching back to 1994, helped pave the way to the current crisis of nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles in the hands of a totalitarian North Korean regime that threatens and mocks the U.S., aspires to subjugate South Korea, is pushing East Asia toward a nuclear arms race, and doubles as a rogue munitions merchant to the world’s worst predators.

On paper, Resolution 2375 might sound like a formula for success, or at least a good move in that direction. Slather more sanctions — the toughest yet! — on North Korea, and hope it leads to a deal. There will now be a new round of Washington conferences, and Op-eds, and reports, and testimony, dissecting and embellishing on the latest sanctions and, when these toughest-ever sanctions turn out to be inadequate to stop Kim’s nuclear projects, recommending yet more sanctions. In Washington, it’s become an industry unto itself — expanding in tandem in tandem with North Korea’s flourishing nuclear program.

Unless the real mission behind these sanctions is to help achieve the only real remedy — which is to take down the Pyongyang regime (not bargain with it) — then beware.

 

Uncertain Futures: China, Trump and the Two Koreas

February 10, 2017

Uncertain Futures: China, Trump and the Two Koreas, 38 North, February 9, 2017

(Kim Jong-un may be insane. Or, like his predecessors, he may pretend to be insane to make predictions about his behavior very difficult and often impossible. China’s leaders are not insane, they are merely devious. Dealing with them has been, and will continue to be, very difficult. — DM)

China waving flag on bad day

China waving flag on bad day

At the beginning of the Trump administration, the situation on the Korean peninsula is highly uncertain and potentially volatile. During a late January research trip to Beijing, “uncertainty” and “concerns” were the keywords that best characterized how Chinese scholars and officials are feeling about Trump and the two Koreas. During his presidential campaign, Trump suggested that he would be willing to negotiate with North Korea directly. However, that scenario has become more uncertain in recent months, especially given the hawkish instincts of President Trump and his national security team. Chinese analysts nonetheless expect the US to enlist Beijing’s support on the North Korea issue and are anxiously waiting for Washington to engage so that China can bargain for its preferred outcomes. The prolonged silence from the administration is making Beijing increasingly uncertain and uncomfortable, and complicating its plans to reduce the threat that the United States and its network of alliances in Northeast Asia poses to Chinese security and strategic influence.

Between 2013 and 2016, China tested an alternative alignment strategy on the Korean peninsula. Frustrated with North Korea’s brinkmanship continuously damaging Chinese security interests, President Xi Jinping placed his hope on South Korean President Park Geun-hye to improve China’s strategic position. At the heart of this scheme was an effort to turn South Korea into China’s “pivotal” state in Northeast Asia, thereby undermining the US alliance system in the region and diminishing its threat to China. As a result of Sino-ROK rapprochement, senior-level visits soared, bilateral economic ties strengthened and many South Koreans questioned the utility and future of the US-ROK alliance. In an ideal scenario, China’s new realignment strategy would defeat the US-orchestrated “Northeast Asia NATO” based on America’s alliances with Japan and Korea, and counter the US-Japan alliance with an alignment between China and both Koreas. From the Chinese point of view, this would not only reduce China’s vulnerability vis-à-vis the US, but also lay a firm foundation for Chinese regional predominance.

However, events after the fourth North Korean nuclear test in January 2016 entirely derailed China’s scheme. Overestimating its presumed influence over Seoul, Beijing refused to adequately address South Korea’s legitimate security concerns, which eventually led to Seoul’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. China sees the THAAD deployment as a threat to strategic stability with the United States and an obstacle to its desired regional blueprint. As such, Chinese policy toward the Korean peninsula has evolved significantly in the last year, reflecting the realization that undermining the US-ROK alliance and turning South Korea into a Chinese strategic asset were both improbable in the near future and raising the prospect that Beijing might not have a choice between the two Koreas after all.

Nonetheless, while China’s ambitious efforts to transform geopolitical alignments on the Korean peninsula did not come to fruition, it still has two other key priorities. First, Beijing has not completely given up its efforts to defeat the THAAD deployment. At a minimum, it hopes that a victory for progressive forces in the upcoming South Korean presidential election, such as the Minjoo Party, could alter Seoul’s deployment plans for the system. While acknowledging that a complete reversal of the deployment decision is unlikely, Beijing hopes that a new South Korean government might delay the initial deployment or reduce the number of deployed units. China sees the propensity of the progressives to engage North Korea, to improve relations with China and to limit the scope of the US-ROK alliance as aligned with its overall strategic agenda. Although China’s ability to sway a South Korean domestic election is limited—for example, by maintaining the implicit sanctions China has imposed on South Korean companies, products and industries for the THAAD deployment—its preference and influence are expected to have an impact.

Second, China hopes to mitigate the impact that any future North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test might have on its strategic position and influence on the peninsula. The conventional wisdom is that North Korea will not want to conduct the test immediately after Trump’s inauguration, as it will almost certainly block the chance for dialogue with the new US administration and boost the popularity of the conservatives in the South Korean election. However, based on North Korea’s previous pattern of behavior, Chinese experts expect to see provocations in the coming months if Trump chooses to follow Obama’s policy of strategic patience. At the same time, Chinese analysts are inclined to downplay the significance of such an ICBM test, citing the immaturity of North Korea’s long-range missile technology and its likely failure. Still, Beijing will oppose any preemptive strike by the US on the launch site, although it does not fully believe that the US would take such a risky move and jeopardize South Korean security—a fundamental assumption embedded in China’s assessment of the prospects for conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Beijing has always insisted that North Korea’s nuclear development is motivated by Pyongyang’s vulnerability and insecurity, and argued that only the US and North Korea can resolve the stalemate through a peace negotiation. Selfless as it may sound, there is a certain level of hypocrisy in that position. As it has become clear to American officials and experts that strategic patience failed to address the North Korean nuclear threat, there have been more vocal calls to resume US-DPRK dialogue in return for a decision by Pyongyang to suspend its nuclear and missile tests. For China, the danger lies in the unpredictable consequences of such a bilateral negotiation. If the United States and North Korea decide to move ahead with a deal, the improvement of relations between them and the shifting balance of power on the Korean peninsula will diminish what China perceives as its leverage and strategic influence. Therefore, if the Trump administration unilaterally initiates bilateral talks with North Korea, it will be met with suspicion rather than enthusiasm from Beijing.

China’s potential reaction to a North Korean ICBM test all comes down to one question: What does Beijing want? One thing is clear: China wishes to see denuclearization and peace dialogues, but also wants to be an indispensable party in these dialogues to monitor and influence their direction. Beijing believes that the “dual-track” approach (parallel negotiations on denuclearization and a peace treaty) it proposed in 2016 offers the best hopes for achieving its strategic and security goals. Although the Obama administration largely rejected this approach, Beijing sees a new opportunity to try it again with the Trump administration. Trump should understand, however, that China’s position on the Korean peninsula is neither objective nor neutral and that it will view all solutions primarily through the lens of its strategic competition with the United States. As a result, it is important for all the concerned parties to have realistic expectations about a grand bargain with China over North Korea and treat it with extreme caution.

The US-China relationship under Trump is undoubtedly the largest uncertainty in China’s relations with both North and South Korea. If the Trump administration, as appears to be the case, chooses a more confrontational approach towards China, soliciting Beijing’s support and assistance in pressuring North Korea will be exceedingly difficult. A more hawkish stance from the United States will make Beijing instinctively seek more policy leverage, and provocative North Korea behavior that goes unpunished militarily by the United States offers tremendous opportunities for Beijing to be wooed by Americans to rein in Pyongyang. Past experience, including the Cheonan incident, the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and South Korea’s THAAD deployment, have demonstrated the high level of leniency Beijing will afford Pyongyang when the United States applies greater pressure on China in response to such provocations.

The application of US secondary sanctions on China, which some American officials and experts have discussed, is likely to make China less rather than more cooperative on North Korea. It is unlikely that effective sanctions could be imposed on these entities without poisoning bilateral relations and adversely affecting China’s willingness to cooperate with the US on North Korea. China opposes unilateral sanctions as a general principle, and in particular condemns those that affect Chinese companies or interests. Beijing’s cooperation on the Iran nuclear deal was not incentivized by US sanctions on the Chinese Bank of Kunlun and Zhuhai Zhenrong, but by the opportunities offered for expanding Chinese influence in the Middle East and leveraging its cooperation in overall relations with Washington. In the Chinese view, the North Korea nuclear program, unlike the Iranian case, is much more complicated and sensitive because it directly affects China’s national security, and therefore requires more comprehensive and political solutions.

If the Trump administration’s primary goal is to confront China and thwart Beijing’s regional ambitions, the most effective policy (and the worst nightmare for China) would be a unilateral improvement of relations with North Korea. Whether that is politically possible depends on how far the administration is willing to pursue diplomacy and negotiations to defuse the North Korean threat. On the contrary, pressuring China is unlikely to make it cooperate. Beijing wants a grand bargain over the future of the Korean peninsula conducive to China’s interests. Without a proper endgame to incentivize the Chinese and a policy of dialogue that allows Beijing a key seat at the table, neither pressure nor solicitation will succeed.

China-N. Korea ties under Trump

January 24, 2017

China-N. Korea ties under Trump, North Korea Times, Lee Seong-hyon, January 24, 2017

With “Trump America” in place now, one of the areas that the East Asian geopolitical analysts pay attention to is how the Trump variable would enter into Sino-North Korea relations. First, China is wary that the tough-talking Trump may take a much harder line toward North Korea that may, in turn, “destabilize” China’s strategic neighborhood environment.

Beijing has a habit of suspecting that Washington gets tougher on North Korea when it wants to warn China. This might sound odd to outside observers, but “this pattern” is a well-entertained item among regional strategists. It also reveals how China identifies its geopolitical vulnerability more aligned with North Korea, than with the United States. At the extension of the logic, it also underscores the potential limitation of cooperation Washington wants to have from China, so as to jointly deal with the regional pariah. That won’t happen, however, to borrow Trump’s New Year’s resolution on North Korea.

In fact, when Trump blurted “That won’t happen” as a reaction to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s threat of test-launching an ICBM (with an obvious connotation that its reach could hit continental America), it was China that was also alarmed. Trump’s swift Twitter warning against North Korea’s seemingly unstoppable ICBM libido was perceived by China as a firm deterrence posture by Washington on the matter.

A North Korea-fired ICBM landing on American soil is tantamount to hurting U.S. “core interest,” a Chinese analyst observed. The term, “core interest,” is jargon with a specific definition when it is used in the Chinese security context. According to the Chinese Communist Party, “core interest” is the top-level national interest among the three interests (core, major and general). Specifically, it is an interest the “nation’s survival” (guojia de shengcun) depends on, and therefore there can be “no room for compromise” (burong tuoxie).

So, China’s perception of attaching a cardinal graveness to North Korea’s possible ICBM launch and America’s possible retaliation makes Beijing jittery, as it destabilizes China’s backyard. Furthermore, this warning came from the mouth of Trump – a human being China finds inhumanly challenging to pin down, let alone predict.

China expects the Trumpian push on Beijing to restrain Pyongyang, to be more demanding than Obama’s. Trump said China has “total control” over North Korea. “China should solve that problem,” he declared.

Whether China really has that level of leverage over North Korea is debatable, but what matters is Trump’s “thinking” on the matter. He is now the president of the United States (despite some Americans’ denial). Trump’s thinking will have decisive policy implications regarding how the U.S. government will approach the topic from now on. Supportive of this interpretation, Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said China can “make magic” on the North Korean issue. The question is, will China make that magic?

As things stand now, and based on how China has been implementing the latest U.N. sanctions, China appears to be on a course that cannot afford to meet American expectations. The latest U.N.-approved sanctions, which China also signed, have been rolling in the aftermath of North Korea’s successful fifth nuclear test – reportedly its biggest yet.

While giving its nod behind the international body’s move, China yet insisted the sanctions not hurt the North Korean people’s “livelihood” (minsheng). The defining feature of “minsheng” is that, it is China that defines it, and it is China that enforces it. When the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was asked to define it, Wang circumscribed it by saying: “People know what it means when they hear it,” during a press conference last year. Wang’s Zen-like answer was masterful, but the “minsheng” clause serves to remain as one of the two main challenges to the task of implementing the sanctions, in both spirit and flesh.

The other challenge in the sanctions scheme is the so-called “conflict of interest” between the local governments and the central government. The local economy of a city such as Dandong, a Chinese city that borders North Korea, relies largely on its trade with North Korea. Sanctions naturally hurt the city’s economy. Therefore, enforcing sanctions goes against the local interests. Moreover, the provincial officials’ job evaluation is also significantly based on the local economy’s growth. The official’s local popularity also suffers when he strictly enforces the sanctions. “So, what would you do about the sanctions if you were the mayor of Dandong?” a Chinese interlocutor asked.

China also bemoans the lack of “incentives” from the United States for Beijing’s enforcing the sanctions. As the U.S.-China relations are expected to enter into a “conflict phase” under the Trump administration, China may find itself much less enthused to play the role of a “hit man” against its problematic neighbor. On the contrary, as North Korea is one of the few countries in the world that openly challenges the U.S. leadership, China will find Pyongyang more useful than before, in corroborating China’s geopolitical interests. Taken together, Sino-North Korea relations in 2017 will not only depend on their mutual mojo (a topic we’ll cover later), but also largely leveraged by the U.S.-China relationship.