We knew they’d take it well. Despite late negotiations that softened up the proposal, North Korea’s envoy on disarmament talks issued an angry renunciation of new UN Security Council sanctions in response to the Kim regime’s continued nuclear and ICBM tests. Han Tae Song promised “greatest pain” for Americans in return for curbs on exports and energy imports, including a reference to “ultimate means”:
North Korea on Tuesday condemned the U.N. Security Council’s decision to impose tougher sanctions and doubled down on its warning that the United States would “suffer the greatest pain” it has ever experienced for leading the effort to ratchet up economic pressures on the reclusive nation. …
“My delegation condemns in the strongest terms and categorically rejects the latest illegal and unlawful U.N. Security Council resolution,” North Korean Ambassador Han Tae Song told the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, according to Reuters.
Han said North Korea is “ready to use a form of ultimate means” but did not elaborate, the news agency reported.
They seem pretty grouchy for a country whose bacon got saved by China in the final rounds of negotiation. However, even while this is weaker than what the US and Japan initially demanded, it does ratchet up the economic pressure on Pyongyang:
After late-night negotiations Sunday with China, the U.S. delegation broadly weakened a sanctions proposal that Beijing was unwilling to support. China’s cooperation is key to enforcing any sanctions.
The move shows the continued division among major world powers as they grapple with a government that has repeatedly defied U.N. resolutions.
The initial U.S. resolution had included a ban on oil exports to North Korea, which would have severely crippled the isolated nation’s economy, and a freeze on the personal assets of its leader, Kim Jong Un.
But as China and Russia made their opposition known, U.S. diplomats backed down, agreeing to gradually reduce, instead of ban, oil exports to Pyongyang.
They also gave up on the personal-assets freeze for Kim, too. ABC’s Conor Finnegan reports that the US team argues that they got the best deal possible under the conditions at the UNSC. They needed to avoid vetoes by China and Russia, and at least got half a loaf rather than nothing at all:
“We are very pleased with this package,” the official said of the resolution, even though it required U.S. concessions to China and Russia to win approval. “This is the strongest set of sanctions that the Security Council has imposed. It represents yet another major step.”
The official defended the U.S. mission from critics who say the sanctions were watered down, arguing an early draft from the U.S. was given to the press to place pressure on any who might seek to soften the sanctions. The final resolution was the result of “tactical calls” to “get strong results” and get everyone on the Security Council on board, the official added.
That’s certainly true, and this does incrementally step up the economic pressure on Kim. It’s a win for the US, even if it’s not quite the victory they initially wanted. For China, though, the tactical victory in dialing down the new sanctions is probably short-lived, and it prompts questions about whether Beijing has lost control over its Korean Peninsula strategy. The Christian Science Monitor wonders whether China has lost its ambition as a global power:
Exasperated and embarrassed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, Beijing is nonetheless shrinking from using all the influence it has to stop them. China reportedly refused to back US proposals for an oil embargo against Pyongyang, for example, forcing Washington to soften the UN Security Council resolution debated on Monday.
US President Trump has publicly chastened Beijing on Twitter for its hesitancy, and China’s caution risks undermining its growing reputation as a decisive player on the world stage. But that apparent weakness is a price that its rulers seem willing to pay now, in return for longer-term leadership dividends.
Stronger sanctions could throttle Kim Jong-un’s regime. And though the young dictator is a humiliating thorn in China’s side, Beijing still sees North Korea as more of an asset than a liability for its overriding purpose: to take America’s old mantle as the unchallenged power in Asia.
“If you are a major global power you are expected to step up at a time of crisis,” says David Shambaugh, an expert in Chinese politics at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “China is not doing that.”
Their first priority is to maintain a puppet in Pyongyang to prevent a capitalist and successful democracy from forming on its long border. At some point, though, China may need to ask itself if it fears that outcome worse than another war on the peninsula — because Kim seems determined to have one and to start it himself if necessary.