China Likely Cheating, Again, on North Korea Sanctions

“We are both determined to fully enforce the UN Security Council Resolution 2270,” said Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday, referring to China and the US. As hundreds of American and Chinese officials wrapped up this year’s installment of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in China’s capital, America’s top diplomat wanted the world to believe Beijing was complying with international sanctions on North Korea.

Resolution 2270 is the fifth set of coercive measures imposed by the Security Council on Pyongyang for its weapons programs.

So is Kerry telling us what is in fact the case or what he would like to be true? Unfortunately, it’s the latter. 

Beijing has been making the right noises about compliance. President Xi Jinping, for instance, pledged China would “completely and fully” enforce the UN’s coercive measures. 

And following their passage, Beijing announced severe restrictions on trade. Chinese ports, for example, did not accept coal shipments from North Korea, prohibiting fully laden vessels from unloading cargoes.

There were also unprecedented restrictions on trade of various items, especially rice and construction materials, even though they were not subject to the new UN sanctions. Moreover, Beijing put 31 North Korean vessels on a “blacklist.”

In the past, Beijing made public shows of compliance when sanctions were first imposed and then, when the international community was looking the other way, flouted them across-the-board. That’s how Kim Jong Un, the young North Korean despot, could buy the ski lifts for the Masikryong resort or how his father, Kim Jong Il, could obtain the 16-wheel mobile transporter-erector-launchers for the KN-08 missile, which can dispatch a nuclear weapon to the the continental US. Pyongyang could, one way or another, get almost anything from or through China.

And now again this year it looks like Beijing is following its oft-used playbook.  Chinese statistics show no oil flowing to the North, but it appears to be as South Korean media reports.

Moreover, despite apparent attempts at enforcement, a significant amount of goods and commodities under sanction are now crossing the China-North Korea border, especially items considered vital to the Kimist regime.

Beijing, for instance, did nothing or virtually nothing to stop the export of sanctioned luxury goods intended as gifts to the attendees of the 7th Workers’ Party Congress.

Most worryingly, China did not interrupt the flow of materials and components for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, such as cylinders of uranium hexafluoride. Also allowed into the North were vacuum pumps, valves, and computers.

At some point, Kerry needs to drop the pretense and call out China in public for conduct violating its international obligations—and which contributes to a regime that is a grave threat to the world.

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