Hopes that the United Nations will pass cutting financial sanctions against North Korea to punish it for the third nuclear test have been dashed today by comments made by Russian diplomats.
Today Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told a news conference, “Any additional measures of pressure on North Korea should be aimed exclusively at the sphere of non-proliferation of nuclear arms and rocket launches.”
He added “We are against measures that would affect normal trade and economic relations with North Korea. We understand our Chinese colleagues have similar views.”
Despite Gatilov’s comments, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has not made clear its position on increasing sanctions on North Korea and statements made since the test have avoided specifics in general.
At a news briefing on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said , “the situation on the peninsula is currently sensitive and complicated. We appeal for all relevant parties to remain calm and not to take actions that may worsen the situation.”
In closed door sessions held at the UN Security Council last week regarding the nuclear test, China’s deputy envoy was reported by Foreign Policy magazine to have objected to the inclusion of “a provision underlining the council’s intent to begin negotiation of a Security Council resolution under Chapter Seven,” the part of the UN charter related to imposing sanctions.
Although diplomats believe a Chapter Seven resolution will ultimately be passed based on previous actions, the Chinese move was an indicator that Beijing still has grave doubts about the value of further sanctions on North Korea.
There is little indication that the nuclear test has so far affected economic relations between North Korea and China, whose bilateral trade reached record highs last year.
In a report by state-run China Daily, the general manager of a firm that conducts business in North Korea said, “even if our trading goods are suspended due to the current situation, it will be short term and customs formalities will return to normal a few days later.”
China-based Yangbian Internet Radio has also said that China will be expected to start supplying electricity to the Rason Special Economic Zone (SEZ) sometime in June. If true, it would be the first time China’s state-run electricity agency provides electricity to a foreign country.
For its part, Russia is working with both North and South Korea on various projects, including a gas pipeline, power lines and railway connecting all three countries.
Bilateral trade between Russia and North Korea, while still considerably smaller than between China and North Korea, rose in the first half of last year. Russia also wrote off 90% of an $11 billion debt that North Korea owed.
Following Pyongyang’s third nuclear test last week, rumors swirled that the United States and its allies would push for a tougher sanctions regime, including measures that would limit North Korea’s access to the global financial system. However, Russia and China’s status as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) gives them veto power over any Security Council resolutions, meaning their agreement would be necessary.
With Russia and China likely not on board for sanctions affecting normal trade and economic relations, the Security Council may in coming weeks only be able to pass sanctions that are at best nominally stronger than those passed last month.
Outside of the UN, the European Union announced on Monday new trade and economic sanctions, while tougher sanctions on North Korea’s ability to gain hard currency is currently making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives.
North Korea conducted its third nuclear test last week, in face of significant international pressure. The move was instantly condemned by the UN and many observers believe that further sanctions will be applied as a punishment for North Korea in the weeks ahead.
North Korea also provoked international condemnation by launching a satellite in December, a move that was in opposition to several UN Resolutions prohibiting Pyongyang from testing ballistic missile technologies.