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UN passes watered-down new sanctions on North Korea

China is under pressure to increase sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. Photo: AP

The United Nations Security Council on Monday unanimously approved new sanctions on North Korea but not the toughest-ever measures sought by the Trump administration to ban all oil imports and freeze international assets of the government and its leader Kim Jong-un.

The resolution, responding to Pyongyang's sixth and strongest nuclear test explosion on September 3, does ban North Korea from importing all natural gas liquids and condensates. It also bans all textile exports and prohibits any country from authorizing new work permits for North Korean workers — two key sources of hard currency for the northeast Asian nation.

As for energy, it caps Pyongyang's imports of crude oil at the level of the last 12 months, and it limits the import of refined petroleum products to 2 million barrels a year.

The watered-down resolution does not include sanctions that the US wanted on North Korea's national airline and the army.

Nonetheless, US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council after the vote that "these are by far the strongest measures ever imposed on North Korea." But she stressed that "these steps only work if all nations implement them completely and aggressively."

"Today we are saying the world will never accept a nuclear armed North Korea," she said. "We are done trying to prod the regime to do the right thing" and instead are taking steps to prevent it "from doing the wrong thing."

The final agreement was reached after negotiations between the US and China and major trading partner. Haley said the resolution never would have happened without the "strong relationship" between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

But its provisions are a significant climb-down from the very tough sanctions the Trump administration proposed last Tuesday.

The US first circulated a draft resolution that called for a full ban on exports of oil to North Korea and an asset freeze on leader Kim, the Worker's Party and the government of North Korea.

But later, the US put forward another draft that removed the full oil embargo, asset freeze, travel ban for Kim and softened the language on foreign workers and other issues.

North Korea's foreign ministry issued a statement early Monday saying it was watching the US' moves closely and warned that it was "ready and willing" to respond with measures of its own. It said the US would pay a heavy price if the sanctions proposed by Washington are adopted.

Britain's UN ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters who questioned the watering down of the initial US text that "there is a significant prize in keeping the whole of the Security Council united."

Rycroft called the resolution "a very significant set of additional sanctions," declaring that "we are tightening the screw, and we stand prepared to tighten it further."

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said, "We are facing not a regional but a global threat, not a virtual but an immediate threat, not a serious but an existential threat."

"Make no mistake about it," he said, "our firmness today is our best antidote to the risk of war, to the risk of confrontation, and our firmness today is our best tool for a political solution tomorrow."

After the vote, Russia's Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia explained why his country supported the resolution: "Russia does not accept the claims of DPRK to become a nuclear state and has supported all of the security council resolutions demanding an end to the nuclear missile programs of Pyongyang in the interest of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. Therefore, we supported and are supporting the sanctions contained in the resolutions aimed at compelling the DPRK to meet the demands of the Security Council."

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China would agree to a “further response” by the Security Council. However, Geng also said denuclearization of the Korean peninsula should be achieved through peaceful and diplomatic means.

China said after Monday's vote it supported the resolution. "China is consistently committed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, to the peace and stability of the peninsula and to the solution of the issue through dialogue and consultation," said Chinese Ambassador to the UN Liu Jieyi after the vote.

"The resolution adopted by the security council today reflects this principle of three commitments and demonstrates the unanimous position of the international community of opposing DPRK's development of its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities."

A recent statement from China's central bank, which caught media attention on Monday, ordered banks to strictly enforce UN sanctions, calling on various Chinese institutions to carry out "retrospective investigations" on individuals and entities targeted in UN resolutions.

The statement also said these institutions should report back to the central bank and police, and freeze all activity on accounts held by clients targeted by the sanctions.

"Financial institutions and selected non-financial entities shall take necessary and reasonable measures to ensure the timely and accurate implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and prevent mistakes," the central bank statement said.

It also said individuals or companies could appeal to Chinese authorities, but the banks should not act on requests from foreign governments or authorities.

China has hinted at growing impatience with North Korea, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying last week that "China agrees that the UN Security Council should make a further response and take necessary measures".

Despite the US assessment that these are the strongest measures ever imposed on North Korea, some experts said that their impact will only be effective if paired with additional sanctions.

"These UN resolutions only work when complemented by robust US sanctions which is exactly what happened with Iran," said Anthony Ruggiero, a former deputy director of the US Treasury Department and an expert in the use of targeted financial measures for Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

"The difference here is we have wide-ranging UN sanctions that go beyond what we had on Iran," he said. "We also have US sanctions that go beyond the UN sanctions. The Trump administration has already used US sanctions against China and Russia, and Washington should do more like fines against Chinese banks and targeting additional firms and individuals facilitating sanctions evasion."

The restrictions are modeled on the previous restrictions on coal, in this area the US will have to build to a UN embargo, but remains unclear if Beijing will agree to one, according to Ruggiero.

"The textile ban, inspections paragraphs, and joint ventures language are strong," he added.

"The other sectoral restrictions rely on China and Russia implementation, which has been a challenge. The US should continue to use US sanctions against China and Russia to ensure implementation," Ruggiero told CNN.

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