With the White House and Beijing seemingly growing closer to a consensus on the need for strong action to reign in North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program, some are skeptical that China will follow through and crack down on its bellicose neighbor.
Experts in Japan, for one, are divided over how serious China really is about North Korea sanctions.
One predicts Chinese President Xi Jinping will try to avoid any disputes with U.S. President Trump by tightening sanctions against North Korea, especially when China holds the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in autumn, an epoch-making event that is set to centralize power in Xi’s hands.
Another predicts China may take a wait-and-see attitude for the time being by not wreaking any serious economic havoc on Pyongyang. With widespread speculation that the Trump administration won’t last more than a few years, mired as it is in scandal, maintaining the status quo might be possible.
As if to back up the former’s argument, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun on Monday reported that Xi had asked Trump to give him 100 day’s to take concrete actions against North Korea at their first face-to-face, two-day summit at Mar-a-Lago in Florida in early April.
“China is surely using the issue of oil supply as a threat against Pyongyang”
Quoting anonymous sources in both Japan and Washington – which means the reporting should be taken with a pinch of salt – Asahi Shimbun said China is considering limiting both wire transfers and oil exports to the North.
Asahi reported China is afraid of so-called “secondary sanctions” by the U.S. against Chinese banks and companies doing business with Pyongyang’s front companies, and to avoid this outcome, it is following U.S. advice on North Korea.
China accounts for about 90 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade and its crude oil supply, respectively: reason enough for the U.S to demand China enforce strong sanctions against Pyongyang.
Hajime Izumi, a professor at Tokyo International University, said Xi will work hard to get along with Trump ahead of the National Congress of the CPC that takes place every five years. This year, it is expected to usher in a second five-year term as general secretary of the Central Committee of the party for Xi.
“Xi will try to settle problems with the U.S. peacefully to strengthen his power base and to prolong his office term to a total of 10 years,” Izumi said.
Izumi said Xi is expected to invite Trump as the nation’s official guest to Beijing in November, around the time the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit is scheduled to be held in Da Nang, Vietnam.
“We don’t know how long the Trump administration will last”
But Izumi said he is not sure about the effects of Chinese sanctions, especially in the short term.
“We don’t know China can actually limit oil supply to North Korea, as pipelines become very troubling once stopped,” Izumi said. “Also, it takes about at least a half year to see how limited oil supplies will actually affect North Korea.”
“China is surely using the issue of oil supply as a threat against Pyongyang to prevent yet another provocation.”
If China is, indeed, serious about stopping North Korean provocations, it needs to try harder. On Sunday, North Korea tested what it would later announced was the Pukguksong-2 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) – its second test in as many weeks.
But Shunji Hiraiwa, a professor at Nanzan University in Nagoya City and an expert on the Korean peninsula, doubts China’s seriousness about sanctions against North Korea, predicting that Beijingwon’t cut off the oil supply to North Korea significantly – even if the U.S. tries to impose secondary sanctions on Chinese banks and companies that do business with Pyongyang.
“Under strong pressure from the U.S., it’s true China has cooperated on sanctions against North Korea to some extent so far,” Hiraiwa said. “In fact I heard about many stories that China had stopped many Chinese merchants from doing business with North Korea, which might lead to making compensatory payments if it happened elsewhere such as Japan, South Korea and the U.S.”
“But we cannot judge how long this situation will continue and how significantly it will affect Pyongyang,” Hiraiwa said. “From China’s point of view, this is all about pressure from the Trump administration. We don’t know how long the Trump administration will last. China may be thinking of relations with the U.S. in the longer term, not in the short term.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: City on the edge by michael-day on 2011-08-30 06:13:41