North Korean Missile Tests Prompt Chinese Sanctions
China has moved to ban nearly all commodity imports from North Korea in the wake of the seemingly relentless North Korean missile tests. Most recently North Korea tested an ICBM engine as it continues to pursue the ability to craft a reliable delivery system for its nuclear devices.
The ban on imports covers most commodities that Beijing typically buys from the North Koreans including coal, iron ore, gold, titanium, vanadium and rare earth minerals, but does allow for the continued import of some materials for civilian use.
Economically, North Korea has been significantly isolated and much of its economy is supported via illicit means. In fact, several North Korean officials were named in the recent Mossak Fonseca leak, better known as the “Panama Papers,” which detailed methods used by Pyongyang to skirt sanctions, thus calling into question the over-reliance on such measures as a means to curb North Korean behavior.
Punishment for Relentless North Korean Missile Tests
The Chinese sanctions come on the heels of meetings between the U.S. and China as those two nations worked to find common ground to punish Pyongyang for the numerous North Korean missile tests. According to the CIA World Fact Book North Korea earns approximately 4.4 billion dollars annually from raw material exports with nearly 65 percent of that going to China. In other words, the sanctions levied by China will have a significant impact, but it’s doubtful that this will dissuade North Korea from continuing to pursue a nuclear program.
It shouldn’t be assumed that China has made these concessions on North Korean sanctions solely out of international good will. China has recently cut imports from other trading partners, such as Australia, quite significantly. With Chinese exports falling precipitously, Beijing simply cannot afford to import raw materials for production if the rest of the world has slowed its purchasing of Chinese manufactured goods. From this perspective, China has likely gone along with increased international sanctions against North Korea more for its own economic well-being and has seemingly made these recent concessions more out of convenience.
China is undergoing severe economic stress and controversial political changes led by Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. Though these changes haven’t yet reached critical mass, the issue of nonperforming loans, falling exports, and growing unemployment will continue to challenge Beijing in the coming year.
That said, the recent sanctions against North Korea aren’t just about working with the international community to hamper Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, but are also indicative of China’s underlying economic weakness. Meanwhile, the North Korean missile tests are ongoing.