With Nod to China, UN Mulls Tougher Sanctions on North Korea

South Korea Koreas Tension

A South Korean protester participates in a rally to oppose the possible deployment of the United States' advanced defense system THAAD, a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, on Korea Peninsula, as South Korean army soldiers pass by in front of the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016.

Photographer: Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo
  • All vessels entering, leaving North Korea may face inspections
  • UN may vote over the weekend on more North Korea sanctions

The United Nations Security Council will this weekend consider tougher sanctions on North Korea aimed at curtailing the regime’s nuclear ambitions after the country conducted a fourth nuclear test and rocket launch earlier this year.

According to a draft of the resolution obtained by Bloomberg News, the council will consider:

QuickTake Territorial Disputes

  • Mandatory inspections of all vessels going in and out of North Korea
  • Ban on exports from the country of minerals such as gold, titanium, rare earths, coal, and iron -- a key source of hard currency for the Kim Jong Un regime
  • Ban on aviation fuel exports to North Korea
  • Designating additional individuals subject to travel bans and asset freezes
  • Ban on North Korea chartering vessels or aircraft

The draft did not include a ban on exporting oil to North Korea, and in, perhaps, a compromise to China, includes a line stating that the measures are not intended to have "adverse humanitarian consequences for civilian population of North Korea."

“It is a major upgrade and there will be -- provided it goes forward -- pressure on more points, tougher, more comprehensive, more sectors,” U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said before heading into a closed-door council meeting of all 15 council members. “It’s breaking new ground in a whole host of ways.”

Mineral resources account for about 40 percent of North Korea’s exports and restricting that trade would deal a “significant” blow to the regime’s efforts to earn hard currency, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon Hee said Friday at a briefing in Seoul. President Park Geun Hye earlier this month shut down an industrial complex jointly run with North Korea, insisting that the Kim regime has been using revenue from that project to fund its nuclear arms development.

China’s Position

QuickTake North Korea's Nukes

As North Korea’s biggest trading partner for food, arms and energy, China would be key to the success of any sanctions. For weeks, the U.S. and Japan have been seeking China’s support to curb North Korea’s access to international ports, and to further tighten restrictions on its access to the international financial system, according to diplomats.

“In order to uphold the international nuclear nonproliferation regime, for the sake of denuclearization, our exchanges will be affected to some extent,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Thursday. He also said that other members of the Security Council understand China’s position that “normal exchanges, especially those affecting the livelihood of the North Korean people, should not be adversely affected” by sanctions.

Sanctions supported by China “could be far more effective than before,” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts Goohoon Kwon and Irene Choi wrote an e-mailed report. “Relevant parties would likely understand that the sanctions might not be strong enough to stop the nuclear ambitions of North Korea, but may opt to compromise to keep stability in the region.”

The new sanctions are not likely to generate immediate results nor are they strong enough to shock North Korea into action, said Shi Yongming, an associate research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing.

"Whether to include banning oil exports to North Korea was a sticking point in discussion,” Shi said. “That would strangle Kim’s regime to death very quickly, which Beijing would not want to see. By keeping this measure out, which Beijing has been supporting, North Korea is allowed to still have some breathing space and one last chance to return to negotiation table.”

Thaad System

North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch this month prompted South Korea’s government to consider installing the missile-defense system made by Lockheed Martin Corp. on its soil, a move long opposed by China. The U.S., South Korea and Japan have all adopted unilateral measures against North Korea since the country launched a satellite using a long-range rocket on Feb. 7.

The U.S. contends the Thaad system would be aimed solely at preventing a threatened North Korean attack. But Wang said Thursday that its powerful radar threatens his country’s national security.

“The X-band radar associated with the Thaad system has a radius that goes far beyond the Korean peninsula and reaches into the interior of China,” Wang said in an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “In other words, China’s legitimate national security interests may be jeopardized or threatened.”

“We believe China’s legitimate security concerns must be taken into account and a convincing explanation must be provided to China,” Wang said. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask.”

For years South Korea has danced around the idea of Thaad, which targets missiles at high altitudes and could complement lower-altitude defenses already in the country.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with Wang at the State Department on Tuesday, said there would be no need to deploy Thaad if North Korea agrees to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The U.S. maintains about 28,500 troops in South Korea.

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