It’s good news that China and the U.S. managed to agree on intensifying and broadening United Nations sanctions on the D.P.R.K. after its third nuclear test, to include new restrictions on North Korea’s diplomats’ transferring cash out of the country, beefed up inspection of North Korean imports and exports and prohibitions on the sale of the luxury items North Korea’s leaders enjoy.
China has been looking for ways to stabilize its relations with the U.S. and its Asian neighbors, and cooperating to strengthen the international pressure on Pyongyang certainly helps.
After more than a decade of reassuring diplomacy toward its neighbors, China has started using coercive diplomacy to show its resolve to defend its maritime territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea. Its threatening rhetoric and actions have raised anxieties in Asian capitals and in Washington that China’s rise might not be peaceful after all.
In this context, China is seeking opportunities to shore up its international reputation as a responsible power and prevent its relations with the U.S. as well as with South Korea from worsening.It can find such opportunities in developing common approaches to tough problems like North Korea, Iran, and Syria with the U.S. and other countries.
It’s too soon to tell whether China’s support of the sanctions resolution means that it has made strategic decision to radically change its policy toward North Korea. Some influential figures in the Chinese elite have soured on the D.P.R.K. and are speaking out publicly to urge a tougher approach or even abandoning China’s troublesome ally. Yesterday Mao Zedong’s grandson, a major general, criticized North Korea’s nuclear program yesterday.
But remember that China did support three previous rounds of UN sanctions on Korea. The actual impact of the sanctions depends on how China enforces them. The sanctions could have real bite if China slows down trade across the border by stopping to inspect trucks to make sure they don’t carry any of the items on the sanctions lists, and Chinese banks turn down North Korean business. The more transparent China can make its enforcement of the sanctions, the greater the boost to its international reputation and its relations with the U.S. and South Korea.