February 24, 2024

Don’t count out China on N.Korea sanctions

Beijing’s interests may not include supporting Pyongyang indefinitely

Following North Korea's launch of a satellite on February 7, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement condemning the launch. It is now debating a resolution which will seek to impose more sanctions on North Korea. But as commentator after commentator has pointed out, the key is China: If China blocks further sanctions, then there is little more that the U.S. and its Asian allies can do through the United Nations.

Several commentators have set out why China is reluctant to support strong measures at the Security Council. Chinese concerns center on what it thinks might happen if sanctions destabilize the DPRK. Possible problems include a flood of refugees across China's border and the risk that instability might lead to the DPRK’s collapse, its absorption by the ROK and the establishment of a unified, pro-American Korea on China's borders. Inevitably, China also sees the problems of the Korean Peninsula through the wider lens of its (presently tense) relationship with the U.S.