War With North Korea? In Shift, China Shutters Major North Korean Bank Account

China’s largest state-owned bank closed North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank account on Tuesday over accusations that the bank was funding Pyonyang weapons programs. This step comes as a definitive sign that Chinese-North Korean relations are growing increasingly icy.

The U.S. Treasury has called the North Korean bank a “key financial node” helping Kim Jong-un's regime finance missiles and nuclear weapons development.

While China has historically stood as a stoic ally among North Korea's dwindling network of supporters, Beijing has signified a noticeable shift in policy in recent months. China  joined U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in April to issue a statement asking Pyonyang to abandon nuclear programs, and supported United Nations sanctions in an unprecedented move to pressure the former ally. China's recent support for such sanctions has, however, been perceived as wavering.

The recent closing of a major North Korean account provides some hope that China is growing increasingly wary of supporting the rogue regime. Bank of China is one of China's largest state-owned financial operations, and government authorities are said to provide political direction for its endeavors. The Wall Street Journal reports the recent decision to cut ties with North Korea's account was likely approved by top-level government officials under growing pressures regarding the unsavory practices of the North Korean bank. Chinese and U.S. actions against the bank have already had far-reaching impact for North Korea's bank, as Japan and Australia have recently followed suit and closed off accounts with the North Korean bank.

It remains unclear, however, just how influential this move will turn out to be. As Reuters reports, it is still unclear just how much of Chinese-North Korean trade (estimated to be a figure of around $6 billion) runs through North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank.

While many hope the key to normalization in the North Korean issue lies in squeezing the already crippling North Korean economy, the power of this most recent Chinese move may be more symbolic than financial. John Park of Harvard University’s Belfer Center sees the issue as a sign of diplomacy at work, recently claiming, “Bank of China, of all the Chinese banks, has to adhere to international sanctions because they have a reputation to uphold.’’

China's recent move provides hope that international diplomatic pressures may still prove useful tools in this otherwise hard-power crisis that continues to surprise many in its escalation thus far.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Rachel George

Rachel is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics. She holds a BA in Politics from Princeton and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard. Her interests include journalism, U.S. foreign policy, human rights, and international law.

MORE FROM

Anthony Scaramucci acknowledges “colorful language” after ‘New Yorker’ published his wild rant

Scaramucci's "colorful language" revealed the high-stakes tension going on at the White House.

Lindsey Graham says he is creating legislation to block Trump from firing Mueller

Graham said earlier that ousting Mueller would mark the "beginning of the end of the Trump presidency."

Despite Trump, military leaders say there will be no changes to transgender policy for now

“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect."

Trump will visit Long Island to discuss gang violence — but some fear he could make the issue worse

Trump has celebrated mass deportations as fighting gang violence — but are his words helping or hurting?

Like his boss, Anthony Scaramucci seems to be a fan of disgraced football coach Joe Paterno

President Donald Trump also gave a shout-out to the late Penn State coach during the 2016 campaign.

‘Hot Mic’ podcast: Transgender ban, GOP healthcare struggling, video games relieve work stress

What you need to know for Thursday, July 27.

Anthony Scaramucci acknowledges “colorful language” after ‘New Yorker’ published his wild rant

Scaramucci's "colorful language" revealed the high-stakes tension going on at the White House.

Lindsey Graham says he is creating legislation to block Trump from firing Mueller

Graham said earlier that ousting Mueller would mark the "beginning of the end of the Trump presidency."

Despite Trump, military leaders say there will be no changes to transgender policy for now

“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect."

Trump will visit Long Island to discuss gang violence — but some fear he could make the issue worse

Trump has celebrated mass deportations as fighting gang violence — but are his words helping or hurting?

Like his boss, Anthony Scaramucci seems to be a fan of disgraced football coach Joe Paterno

President Donald Trump also gave a shout-out to the late Penn State coach during the 2016 campaign.

‘Hot Mic’ podcast: Transgender ban, GOP healthcare struggling, video games relieve work stress

What you need to know for Thursday, July 27.