China Changes Tone On N. Korea: From Not Our Problem To We’ll Deal With It

Ryan Pickrell | China/Asia Pacific Reporter

Beijing is signaling that it will do what it must to rein in North Korea, even if it exacts a heavy toll on China.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 2371, the “single largest economic sanctions package ever leveled against the North Korean regime” and “the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation,” over the weekend, according to U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. The new sanctions are expected to cut Pyongyang’s $3 billion export revenue by as much as one-third. As trade with China accounts for roughly 90 percent of all North Korean trade, the sanctions are expected to hit China the hardest.

However, Chinese officials are indicating that they are willing to bear that burden.

“Owing to China’s traditional economic ties with North Korea, it will mainly be China paying the price for implementing the resolution,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Monday. “But in order to protect the international non-proliferation system and regional peace and stability, China will fully and strictly properly implement the entire contents of the relevant resolution.”

China has skirted sanctions in the past, exploiting the livelihood loophole, which suggests that the international community must apply pressure to North Korea in such a way that it does not affect the lives of the North Korean people.

“Every dollar of revenue that North Korea — that the North Korean government gets, they’re not feeding their people with it,” Haley told Fox News Monday. “They’re using it toward a nuclear weapons system.”

The latest round of sanctions follows two successful tests of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile in July. Experts assess that the North’s new ICBM could potentially deliver a nuclear payload to cities across the continental U.S., escalating the threat. North Korea has also tested several new short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles, improving its ability to threaten its neighbors in Northeast Asia. “Enough is enough,” Haley said.

China’s acceptance of the new sanctions is surprising, considering that China tried to wash its hands of the crisis on the peninsula just last month.

“Recently, certain people, talking about the Korean peninsula nuclear issue, have been exaggerating and giving prominence to the so-called ‘China responsibility theory,'” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press briefing in July. “I think this either shows lack of a full, correct knowledge of the issue, or there are ulterior motives for it, trying to shift responsibility.”

“Asking others to do work, but doing nothing themselves is not OK,” he added.

China is torn between its desire to be a respected, responsible international power and its longstanding ties with North Korea, which serve Chinese strategic interests on the Korean Peninsula. Beijing is reassured by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statements that the U.S. is not seeking regime change, internal collapse, reunification, or an excuse to use military force against the North, but it is unclear whether or not China intends to uphold its end of the deal.

China seems to be pleased with Tillerson’s repeated calls for dialogue and a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but China’s long-term strategic interests in the region as a whole remain different from those of the U.S.

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