North Korea: A fading embargo dream


Since the very beginning of their existence, the United Nations have imposed sanctions towards not so many countries. The list of adopted resolutions on sanctions against North Korea is quite longest, though, not exhaustive: 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017). The latest one, 2371 adopted on September 11. With 33 articles and two Annexes, this resolution forms the most comprehensive basis on which international community is reacting on recent developments with missile tests.

Several calls to contain North Korea from its neighbors (and the rest of the world), were not successful, since the N. Koreans decided to continue with the provoking tests. On the other side, for now, North Korea appears to be avoiding further escalation of its domestic and regional activities in missile tests. This situation seemed to be tense and highly likely to implode within the region. The scale of eventual happenings is extremely hard to be predicted.

Were the sanctions finally effective? But which sanctions, in 2015? UNSC resolutions 1718, 1874, 2087 and 2094 were all passed either before or during 2013, the year of the third North Korean nuclear test. But in 2014 and 2015 no tests happened, and no new UN resolutions leading to new sanctions on North Korea were passed. The reasons for the drop in North Korea’s trade volume in 2015 were rather profane. Referring to the work of Lee Jong-Kyu, Li Tingting suggests that the reasons for this decline were reduced demand by the Chinese steel industry for North Korean coal and growing environmental concerns, combined with a decline of world market prices for anthracite. Simply speaking, North Korea has witnessed the fate of any country with a trading structure that is disproportionally dependent on only one or two major export items. This example shows how careful we need to be with interpreting trade data, especially if they are strongly aggregated.

The 2371 Resolution, especially “decides that the DPRK shall not supply, sell or transfer, directly or indirectly, from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft, coal, iron and iron ore, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such material from the DPRK by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of the DPRK, decides that for sales and transactions of iron and iron ore for which written contracts have been finalized prior to the adoption of this resolution, all States may allow those shipments to be imported into their territories up to 30 days from the date of adoption of this resolution with notification provided to the Committee containing details on those imports by no later than 45 days after the date of adoption of this resolution, and decides further that this provision shall not apply with respect to coal that the exporting State confirms on the basis of credible information has originated outside the DPRK and was transported through the DPRK solely for export from the Port of Rajin (Rason), provided that the exporting State notifies the Committee in advance and such transactions involving coal originating outside of the DPRK are unrelated to generating revenue for the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes or other activities prohibited by resolutions (…)”.

A benevolent regional hegemon`s attitude

The pragmatism exposed in reactions of near countries such as Russia, South Korea, China and Japan have been disposed best in China`s attitude towards its “traditional friend” within the international arena. Nowadays this situation will likely turn into its opposite side. A rising economy from the East and the most powerful giant in global growth, will seem to turn off its policy towards North Korea. Most of the foreign policy decisions were made on the basis of economic presence of Chinese companies in North Korea. Following the latest UN Security Council resolution adopted on September 11, Chinese political authorities have decided to withdraw its companies and joint ventures from North Korean territory in the next four months. However, China does not seem to even try to justify its decisions, with legal commitments, but it is doing this like it can`t waited to do so.

Chinese benevolent behavior towards North Korea has come to an end. According to what most notable academic debates claim, China is becoming a “benevolent hegemon” in the global affairs. This title means China is not a real hegemon, since it lacks to use the force in regional and global political crises, but it uses economic means and heavy investments to attract its partners into its economic allies.

Why the dream of embargo is fading?

What remains unclear, is the issue of capability of North Koreans to continuously develop its nuclear and ballistic programs. However, China as the North Korean key economic partner, will now seek the way to deteriorate their mutual relations and to quietly suspend all the activities within potential cooperation package. The fading dream of successful embargo towards N. Korea will need to wait until some better conditions are fulfilled.

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