The United Nations Security Council unanimously passed an American-led resolution on Sept. 11, imposing tougher sanctions on North Korea, including a naval blockade and oil embargo, despite wariness from China and Russia. While the final resolution is a much-watered-down version of the original draft circulated to the Council by the United States last week, Resolution 2375 includes the strictest sanctions ever imposed on the Kim Jong Un regime and his country.
The resolution entirely bans countries from exporting natural gas to North Korea and caps the amount of refined petroleum products to 500,000 barrels from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2017, reducing about 30 percent of fuel sold to North Korea, according to the US. It also caps refined petroleum to two million barrels a year in 2018 and annually thereafter. All textile exports from North Korea have also been banned, including but not limited to fabrics and partly or fully completed apparel products. North Korean nationals have been banned from working abroad.
According to Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, these approximately 93,000 workers are taxed heavily by the regime and their wages help fund North Korea’s ballistic missiles program. The new sanctions regime also prohibits joint ventures with North Korea and calls on UN member states to stop smuggling into North Korea through interdictions on the high seas of prohibited products, such as conventional arms, coal, textiles, and seafood.
The resolution is in response to North Korea’s Sept. 3 test of a hydrogen bomb for an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, the country’s sixth nuclear test. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna said the test measured approximately 6.0 in magnitude and was larger than any previous nuclear test by the country.
In his briefing to the Security Council on Sept. 4, Jeffrey Feltman, the head of the UN Department of Political Affairs, said the explosion was “more than five times more powerful than the weapon detonated over Hiroshima.”
The resolution passed on Sept. 11 is less severe than the US-led draft obtained by Reuters and other media last week. The oil embargo was partly preserved as well as the ban of textile exports and the hiring of North Korean laborers abroad. Today’s final version, however, omits a travel ban and asset freeze on Kim.
“Today we are saying the world will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea,” Haley said in her speech to the Council after the vote. “Today the Security Council is saying if the North Korean regime does not halt its nuclear program, we will act to stop it ourselves.”
These sanctions depart from past Security Council measures, she added, saying: “Previous efforts to bring North Korea to the negotiating table have failed. They have repeatedly walked back every commitment they have made. Today, the Security Council has acted in a different way. Today, we are attempting to take the future of the North Korean nuclear program out of the hands of its outlaw regime.”
Her remarks were a reaction to calls from other member states — particularly China and Russia, permanent members of the Council — to seek a political solution with North Korea.
China’s ambassador to the UN, Liu Jieyi, ended his trip with other members of the Council to the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa early to negotiate the draft resolution, hoping to lessen the sanctions. There were rumors his country would abstain in the vote.
Yet in his statement to the Council, Liu expressed China’s support for the resolution, but he also asked that its own peace proposal be considered.
“The Chinese and Russian initiative is as realistic as it is feasible,” he said. “It is attacking both the symptoms and root causes so as to advance the peaceful settlement of the Korean peninsula nuclear issue and to maintain the peace and stability of the peninsula.”
At the Sept. 4 emergency Council session on the hydrogen bomb detonation, the US and China sparred over how to best address North Korea’s nuclear aggression. Since July, Russia and China (which both share a land border with North Korea) have been calling for mediated de-escalation on both sides. If North Korea suspends its ballistic missiles program, simultaneously the US and South Korea would suspend their military exercises in the region, or a “freeze-for-freeze” agreement.
At that meeting, Haley called the plan “insulting,” saying, “when a rogue regime has a nuclear weapon and an ICBM pointed at you, you do not take steps to lower your guard.”
A Japanese foreign-policy expert at a panel event in Washington, D.C., told PassBlue that China may also be worried about Kim becoming more erratic should he feel that China was betraying him.
Russia’s ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, shared China’s sentiment on the latest sanctions, underscoring the need for a “political settlement.” He said Russia voted for the resolution because “we think leaving nuclear tests without a reaction would be wrong.” (Last week, he also told the media that Haley’s “insulting” remark had been surprising.)
While Russia and China conceded to most of the demands by the US on the new resolution, it appears they haven’t abandoned their preferred approach to North Korea.
“We think it’s a big mistake to underestimate this Russia-China initiative,” Nebenzya said. “It remains on the table at the Security Council, and we will insist on it being considered.”
At the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, Russia’s RT news channel dominates TV screens. In midafternoon, Russia time, its ticker was focusing on the sanctions about to be slapped on North Korea, highlighting an “oil embargo” and a “naval blockade” while also screening video clips of Haley reading her speech on Sept. 4 in the Council, flipping the pages as she spoke. The crowd waiting in line at the airport to board a flight to New York was not paying attention.
“This move is direct provocations from US,” an RT commentator said of the new sanctions.
Barbara Crossette contributed reporting from Washington and Dulcie Leimbach contributed reporting from Moscow.
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Kacie Candela is an assistant editor for PassBlue and a news anchor and reporter with WFUV, a public radio station in the Bronx, N.Y., where she covers the UN and other beats. Her work has won various awards from the New York State Associated Press Association, New York State Broadcasters Association, PRNDI, and the Alliance for Women in Media.