On November 30, 2016, 82 days after the fifth nuclear test conducted by Pyongyang, the UN Security Council tightened the sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by unanimously adopting a new resolution, No. 2321, prepared by the USA.
It is expected that the export revenues of the North will reduce by 27% or by 800 million dollars next year due to this resolution. However, in addition to the global sanctions, the USA and its allies have introduced a large-scale set of unilateral sanctions.
The US Department of the Treasury included another 7 persons and 16 companies related to the DPRK in its sanction list. According to data published on the Department’s website, 16 aircraft belonging to the North Korean airlines Air Koryo have been put under sanctions.
South Korea also tightened its sanctions by including the Chinese Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development and its four representatives in the black list for the first time ever for the promotion of coal export to the DPRK. This company is also suspected of supplying aluminium oxide to the DPRK which is used to create atomic bombs. According to the published document, the Hongxiang Group is prohibited from making any financial or currency transactions with the Republic of Korea and its citizens, and the company’s assets in the Republic of Korea are to be frozen. In general, the introduced sanctions demonstrate that the Republic of Korea may sever relations with an enterprise of any country due to its involvement in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development.
However, the punitive measures against the Chinese company are not the major element of the new sanctions. 35 institutions and 36 persons that play a key role in the North’s development of weapons of mass destruction, as well as providing the DPRK with financial sources, including the director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army Hwang Pyong-so, the Vice Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Choe Ryong-hae, and the Deputy Head of the Political Affairs Department Kim Won-hong, and others have been put on the black list. Among institutions included in the black list compiled by South Korea are the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK, the Central Military Committee of WPK, the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, and other key government bodies that are related to developing weapons of mass destruction and ideological propaganda. Certain plants that are suspected of producing weapons of mass destruction and munitions, including Mansudae Art Studio that earns foreign currency by selling notorious “bronze monuments,” have been also put under sanctions.
In addition, for the first time ever, the list of the entities subject to sanction includes individuals and organisations that manage the export of North Korean coal and send workers abroad to work – their number has increased from 34 to 69, and the number of individuals – from 43 to 79.
Moreover, control over inter-Korean goods turnover has been tightened: in particular, the import of clothes produced in the DPRK but imported as Chinese will be punished. This is done to shut off the North from incomes gained from producing cloths commissioned by foreign companies.
Finally, the punitive measures in the shipping industry have been tightened. For example, the deadline for halting access to the South Korean sea ports for foreign vessels passing through the marine territory of the North has been extended to one year in comparison to the previous 180 days.
The Japanese government has also introduced new sanctions against the DPRK. The new set includes an extended ban on the re-entry of the leadership of the North Koreans Association in Japan, as well as of foreign nuclear experts and experts in missile technology if they have visited North Korea, a ban on the entry of all vessels to Japan’s ports including Japanese vessels if they have entered North Korean ports even for humanitarian purposes. In addition, Japan has banned the export of new aircraft and helicopters to the DPRK.
According to NHK TV channel, the Japanese authorities intend to ban persons related to the DPRK from entering the country and freeze the property of companies and organisations working with the North.
North Korea has responded as expected: the statement published on Thursday by a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs notes that the decision to introduce such measures demonstrates “the abuse of authority and violation of North Korea’s sovereignty by the Security Council that has acted on the instruction of the US.” In response to the introduced sanctions, “Pyongyang will take the most resolute response measures in the interests of self-defence.”
China has not approved the unilateral sanctions. As the official representative of China’s Foreign Ministry Geng Shuang announced at the press conference, “China has always opposed and opposes any unilateral sanctions outside the UN Security Council in respect of another state and any unilateral sanctions that violate the legal interests of China.”
How can we characterize this step taken by the Security Council and its possible consequences?
The UN could not but adopt the resolution as it would look like a serious loss of face especially as the current world order where nuclear weapons are highly restricted is more beneficial to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council than a situation where there are a few dozen nuclear countries, including, for example, the two Koreas, Japan, and Taiwan.
It is clear that the new resolution should “increase the pressure” at least to some extent and tighten the sanctions. However, some problems are beginning to arise: The United States has proposed a full economic blockade de facto (see, for example, the proposal made by Evans Revere), while Russia and China have opposed it as they consider American sanctions to be a tool for regime change.
There are surely many unpleasant restrictions. In particular, the author wonders whether the ban on the cooperation in science and technology applies to the humanitarian scientists. However, restrictions on the export of North Korean labour force have not been introduced.
As for the coal exports, this issue is rather interesting: how can “that 60%” be calculated? If the North increases its coal exports by the end of the year, and the 60% is calculated from this amount, the actual restriction will be much lower. In addition, temporary companies and other tools to evade sanctions will not disappear.
According to the author, this is the reason that the USA, South Korea, and Japan introduced immediate unilateral additional sanctions against the North. In addition, they are trying to put pressure on China (in the author’s view, rather rudely) as a serious blow to the economic development of North Korea is only possible with the active participation of China.
It is not clear how China will allow such a pressure. It seems that the trend of the confrontation between the United States and China will only increase and the possibility that China will cooperate in the North Korean issue in order to protect something more important is waning, especially after the THAAD problem.
How North Korea will respond remains to be seen but, in due form, they should also bare their teeth. Here, I suspect it will be a missile launch as opposed to a nuclear test as the nuclear weapons program has officially been brought to a close.
As for the effect of the forthcoming sanctions, it can be assessed in at least six months. Meanwhile, it pays to remember what the DPRK managed to achieve against the backdrop of previous sanctions, and the situation involving the introduction of sanctions against Russia amid the Crimea crisis two years ago when some experts expected that the Kremlin would face economic collapse and a rise in protests. Neither one, nor the other has happened.
Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D., Senior Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Science, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.“