North Korean Sanctions Supported By China, But Unlikely to Deter Nuclear Threats

Dennis Rodman made headlines around the world this week when he was spotted fraternizing with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un while visiting North Korea as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters.  Rodman’s visit, however, comes at a hostile time between the international community and North Korea. On Thursday, the 15-member U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution to once again impose sanctions on the isolated country for testing nuclear armaments. The sanctions are targeted mainly at the high-end lifestyles of diplomats and military officials. Approved and drafted by China, one of North Korea’s only diplomatic allies, the resolution tightens existing financial restrictions, imposes restriction on the shipping of luxury and illicit cargo, and establishes travel bans for high-ranking government officials. 

The resolution passed on Thursday is part of a long string of resolutions the United Nations has passed regarding North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Since 1993, the United Nations Security Council has voted on four separate resolutions, three of which imposed sanctions on North Korea for violating the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

The newly approved sanctions come after threats from Pyongyang of a preemptive nuclear attack against the United States. North Korea accuses the United States of performing military drills in the region as a “smoke screen” for “deploying armed forces for aggression” against the peninsula.

If North Korea were to carry out their threats of attacking the United States, China has the most to lose, explaining China’s support of the U.N. resolution. China’s Ambassador to the U.N., Li Baodong, issued a statement declaring he hoped the sanctions would deescalate a tense standoff with North Korea and produce a path to diplomacy. 

China shares an 880-mile border with North Korea in the Liaoning and Jilian Provinces of the northeast corner of China. As of 2006, reports indicate the border is largely unguarded, allowing the free flow of goods and people between China and North Korea.  In the event North Korea launched a strike or was attacked, China would likely absorb any of the displaced persons escaping North Korea. The influx of people from North Korea could potentially cause social unrest and political instability that may threaten the Chinese leadership. Since the number one priority of the CCP is to maintain party power, China will continue to support sanctions and condemn North Korea’s nuclear program. China is also not likely to jeopardize relations with the United States over North Korea, since American trade relations help drive the Chinese economy. Thus, if necessary and in an extreme circumstance, China may halt trade with their Communist brothers to prevent alienating the United States, thereby preventing serious harm to their economic growth.    

In the face of tense relations with a neighboring ally, a powerful U.S. military, and little money, North Korea has little choice but to stop their nuclear ambitions. Yet, there are no indications that Pyongyang has any plans to do so. Even though security analysts argue North Korea does not possess the strike capability to launch a nuclear attack against the United States, North Korea is likely to continue with their threatening rhetoric even if their bark has no bite.