How Serious Is China in Cracking Down on N.Korea?

      May 09, 2013 13:39

      The state-run Bank of China, one of the country's four major banks, said Tuesday it would cut all ties with the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea, which has been tied to Pyongyang's nuclear and missile development plans.

      Although the BOC's announcement was in a briefly worded statement, the move has far-reaching implications.

      Until now, China has maintained that it would only take part in sanctions against North Korea at the UN level but refused to take financial sanctions against the repressive state led by the U.S.

      Due to its opposition to any financial sanctions being included in UN measures to pressure the North, Pyongyang in effect had little trouble securing capital for its nuclear ambitions. As a result, any sanctions against North Korea lacked teeth.

      The BOC decision could start to change that. It is so far the only Chinese bank to announce these steps, and it may simply have been motivated by business considerations because it has to maintain channels with U.S. financial institutions. But the Chinese government had to condone the bank's decision, and that means it was obviously trying to send a warning to Pyongyang.

      If other Chinese banks take the same steps, North Korea would face severe restraints in financing its missile and nuclear programs through arms sales or other illegal activities. It could drive the entire regime into a crisis. Concerted financial sanctions are the most effective method of dealing with the North Korean nuclear and missile threats.

      But Beijing's fundamental approach to North Korea is to maintain the status quo. It is extremely wary of causing the North Korean regime to collapse under excessive sanctions. And there is no indication that this policy has been revised.

      It is true that more and more Chinese officials are getting tired of North Korea's antics. Change is slow, but it is coming. But no true change will occur until China changes its fundamental position and stops tolerating the regime's nuclear weapons and missiles programs.

      Sanctions against the North will truly work only when that happens. It is up to China's international partners to create the circumstances where Beijing can make this choice.

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