One of the international community’s major disputes with China’s handling of North Korea is Beijing’s lax enforcement of UN sanctions, particularly over luxury goods targeting Pyongyang’s elites.
Chinese North Korea watchers, unsurprisingly, have a different view. A survey of academics and government watchers there indicates that, from their perspective, sanctions on luxury goods are trivial and have little effect on North Korea’s activities. Also, they believe it is in China’s interests to promote economic cooperation in East Asia – even with the hated and distrusted Japanese – rather than holding back the economic activity of individual nations, North Korea included.
In part 15 of a new NK News expert interview series, Chinese experts who talked to NK News included:
- Cui Yingjeou, former professor of the Peking University who studied in the Kim Il Sung University in the 1960s. He was a track-two academic of the PRC side during the nuclear crisis of the ’90s
- HaoHao Ye – PhD candidate at Sun Yat-sen University
- Lu Chao – Senior researcher at the Academy of Liaoning social science
- Tsai Jian – Professor at The Fudan University in Shanghai
- Zhang Liangui – Professor of international strategic research at the at the Communist Party’s central party school
Additional reporting: Ting-I Tsai
Q10) Despite international concerns and UN sanctions, Chinese traders continue to export luxury goods to North Korea. Why do you think China’s interpretation of UN sanctions is so relaxed when it comes to providing the DPRK with luxury goods, which critics say only benefit the elite?
Sanctions can’t hurt North Korea at all. I was in North Korea last year. It doesn’t look like North Korea’s economy was hurt by the sanctions in any way. The idea to impose sanctions to change North Korea’s behavior is wrong.
Again, as I said earlier, we have exhausted most of the options to try and shape North Korea’s behavior. But none of them worked. Do you think the previous South Korean and Chinese presidents were stupid? If there were any solution, we’d have probably already found it already.
If there were any solution, we’d have probably already found it already
As long as Washington doesn’t give up its interests in Northeast Asia, especially maintaining its military forces, North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons. Is it possible for China to stand on the same side with the U.S.? No. To me, the gap in Western society and Eastern society seemed to grow wider after the September 3 military parade. It’d be in China’s interests to promote economic cooperation in the region, including Japan, South Korea, Russia and North Korea. In doing so, there is a possibility of peace. But Beijing doesn’t seem to be interested. Implementing the sanctions can’t help the Korea Peninsula’s denuclearization after all.
The sanctions are meaningless. International society believes cutting off the supply of luxury goods to the elites is punishment. The problem is North Korea’s economy has remained relatively independent from the rest of the world. During the Cold War era, its economy was associated with Eastern European nations. After the Cold War, its economy has mainly interacted with China, which means North Korea’s economy has little linkage with international society and the sanctions can barely hurt the country.
The Western countries think the sanctions would limit the ruling group’s enjoyment, but the fact is that these sanctions can barely hurt its economy as a whole. From my point of view, I don’t think international society has any effective tool, especially an economic one, to punish North Korea. Economic sanctions might be effective with other countries, but not North Korea. So far the more effective tool has been diplomatic and political pressure.
Western opinions have successfully shaped North Korea as an evil power
Indeed, diplomatic and political isolation has created a lot of pressure for North Korea. North Korea has tried to break its isolation but has failed to accomplish much. Western countries have also created a negative image of North Korea, which has created pressure. However, it’d take a long time for these kinds of pressures to cause substantial damage or lead to the regime’s collapse, unlike (effective) economic sanctions that could quickly lead to chaos. Western opinions have successfully shaped North Korea as an evil power. A lot of Chinese citizens have also looked at North Korea very negatively. I think this is a consequence of Western countries’ opinion-shaping.
China has implemented the UN Security Council’s resolutions, which has hurt North Korea badly. The sanctions banning luxury goods are ridiculous. There has been no clear definition of luxury goods. From a realistic point of view, banning luxury goods can’t stop anything at all. With the ban, Kim Jong Un can still drink expensive wine, and his wife can still carry a purse made in France.
So, how exactly can you ban North Korean from importing luxury goods?
With the ban, Kim Jong Un can still drink expensive wine, and his wife can still carry a purse made in France.
North Korean elites’ demand for luxury goods is not very high and there are so many channels for importing these goods. The ban is just propaganda and has no significance.
China has been implementing the UN sanctions, which include the UN 2094 resolution.
The 2094 resolution includes a sanction on luxury goods, which is quite necessary since international society has agreed to avoid punishing ordinary North Koreans.
North Koreans who have access to the luxury goods are certainly the privileged group. However, everybody (including China) seems to have a different understanding of the definition of luxury goods.
Notably, China’s four major banks have frozen the related accounts and the related departments have published the list of banned goods for export.
According to China’s official response, it is not breaking UN sanctions on luxury goods when it comes to the items exported from China.
I think China usually holds a vague approach to sanctions on North Korea. On the one hand, China does not want to provoke North Korea on this issue. On the other hand, North Korea’s main trading partner is China. So sanctions would cause harm to Chinese businessmen.
As we know, exporting luxury goods is a high-profit business. So the businessmen have a high incentive to conduct it. So I think it is difficult for China to officially forbid this behavior when confronting pressure from this interest group.
Main picture: Eric Lafforgue
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 1098 words of this article.
Featured Image: Elite class woman in Pyongyang - North Korea by Eric Lafforgue on 2010-04-25 05:37:28