When the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1718 on October 14, it agreed to impose economic sanctions against North Korea for testing a nuclear device earlier in the month. The resolution condemned the atomic test, demanded that the DPRK conduct no further tests or ballistic missile launches, and called upon all United Nations member states to stop the trade of various weapons systems, luxury goods, and certain technologies with North Korea.
Of course, the communist dictatorship of Kim Jong-Il immediately rejected the resolution and threatened war on nations imposing economic sanctions on the DPRK. Why the bellicose rhetoric? Because North Korea knows that the sanctions resolution is more show than actual punishment, and the provisions of Resolution 1718 will be selectively enforced.
Almost as soon as the resolution was passed, the Chinese government stated that it would not participate in the inspection of cargo entering and exiting North Korea. After some diplomatic prodding from the United States, China began limited checks of North Korean trucks crossing its border, but has thus far not agreed to inspect cargo ships transiting the waters in the region.
China is hesitant to enforce tough sanctions on North Korea because the threat of regional instability from a governmental collapse in Pyongyang is perceived to be greater than the risk of a North Korean nuclear attack on Chinese soil. If Kim Jong-Il decided to launch an atomic device at his long-time benefactor, the response would be swift and crushing, without any Chinese fear of repercussions from the world community.
But if North Korea collapses under the weight of crippling economic sanctions, China faces a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Refugees would flood across the border and instability would engulf the region. China knows that the North Korean economy is in dire straits. The people are starving and the situation seems to get worse with each passing month.
USA Today reported recently that the World Food Program warned it might have to cut food aid to North Korea early next year because donations from the world community have fallen woefully short. According to USA Today, the WFP has collected only 10-percent of the $102 million it needs to provide food to North Korea for the next two years.
China has been propping up Kim’s regime for a long time, flooding the country with money, food, and consumer goods. While the government in Beijing does not want to see nuclear proliferation in its backyard, it also does not want to deal with an economic and humanitarian disaster that experts warn could happen as soon as three months from now.
For now, at least, it appears that the enforcement of sanctions in the region will be limited to the efforts of the United States and Japan. Other countries, such as long-time American ally Australia, will prevent North Korean ships from entering their ports and will suspend trade with the DPRK. China will go through the motions of random checks at the border to make it look as if they are doing their part to enforce the U.N. resolution. They may even freeze some funds and restrict travel between the two countries.
But in the end, real enforcement of economic sanctions is not an immediate concern for the Chinese. While the United States wants to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by a ruthless dictator, China wants to avoid the consequences of a complete implosion by its eastern neighbor. And as long as that is the case, the Chinese can be expected to do little to stop Kim Jong-Il’s nuclear pursuits.
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