WASHINGTON – With the U.N. Security Council adopting a new sanctions resolution Monday on North Korea in response to its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, the United States is expected to consider expanding sanctions on entities in China and elsewhere that facilitate Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
While President Donald Trump’s administration does not rule out military options in dealing with the threat posed by North Korea, a U.S. pre-emptive strike is an unlikely scenario in addressing the nuclear standoff, according to security experts.
Given the faster-than-expected progress in North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, members of Congress and experts on North Korea have called for applying maximum pressure on Pyongyang without waiting for approval or cooperation from China and Russia — two countries that blocked the U.S. bid to include an oil embargo on Pyongyang in the latest U.N. sanctions.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis last week to step up the imposition of U.S. sanctions on Chinese entities that help enable North Korea’s illicit activities, according to a column carried in the Monday edition of The Washington Post.
In the wake of what Pyongyang claimed was the detonation Sept. 3 of a hydrogen bomb that could be delivered on a missile capable of reaching the United States, Royce told columnist Josh Rogin, “I believe we have to come in full throttle with cutting off institutions, primarily financial institutions domiciled in China.”
Serving as the main economic lifeline for North Korea, China accounts for about 90 percent of Pyongyang’s trade and is a major supplier of oil to the country.
Royce’s committee has written a letter to the Trump administration listing large Chinese entities ripe for sanctions, including the Chinese Agricultural Bank and the China Merchant Bank, Rogin wrote.
“We have not had the resolve to put these sanctions on those major institutions,” Royce was quoted as saying. “It’s time to go to maximum pressure.”
Frustrated by Beijing’s foot-dragging on reining in Pyongyang, the Trump administration has begun sanctioning Chinese banks and other entities over their failure to comply with existing U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions on North Korea.
In June, the Treasury Department cut off the Bank of Dandong, a lender on the Chinese border with North Korea, from the U.S. financial system and blacklisted Dalian Global Unity Shipping Co. for their ties with North Korea’s weapons programs.
Some experts have echoed Royce’s view. Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, said there is a good chance that part of the proceeds from doing business with North Korea will be funneled into its nuclear and missile programs.
“We know that Chinese banks, specifically the Bank of China, are more likely than not helping the North Koreans launder money and help them process financial transactions. President Trump needs to come out very strongly and say that needs to stop now,” Kazianis said last week.
“If China and others continue to help North Korea evade sanctions, they should not do business in the United States anymore.”
Kazianis, however, cautioned about a U.S. military option, saying it is not certain whether a U.S. strike could wipe out North Korea’s nuclear arsenal or prevent leader Kim Jong Un from launching an attack on South Korea, Japan or potentially the mainland United States.
“The military option is no option because unless you can 100 percent guarantee that you can get every North Korean nuclear weapon, you’re literally putting millions of lives at risk,” he said. “And keep in mind, that doesn’t even presuppose the 10,000 artillery tubes that are pointed at Seoul.”
“So we have to basically cut the North Koreans off economically, diplomatically and financially,” the expert said. “That’s our best hope to contain that.”
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