China and the UN Sanctions: Cat and Mouse



When the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1874 on June 12, 2009 following North Korea’s second nuclear test, it also empowered an independent Panel of Experts to monitor the sanctions effort. The Panel, which included members from the US, China, France, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the UK, is separate from the inter-governmental Sanctions Committee established following the first nuclear test in 2006.

The Panel of Experts submitted a report to the Security Council in May 2010 that underlined a number of problems with the sanctions regime. The Panel concluded that arms exports had probably dropped, noting a number of high-visibility interdictions (for an early independent assessment, see the International Crisis Group’s report). But it also found that the North Korea was able to evade sanctions by routing trade and financial transactions through China and exploiting loopholes in enforcement. Most explosive was the claim of continuing DPRK involvement in nuclear and ballistic missile activities with Iran, Syria and Myanmar.

Normally such a report would be reviewed in a timely way, passed to the UNSC for consideration and made public. Due to Chinese objections, however, the report languished for nearly six months before being released in November. Nor is this the first time that such objections have hampered the review process. In an October 2010 memorandum to Senator Richard Lugar on sanctions implementation, the Congressional Research Service claimed that Chinese opposition prevented the Sanctions Committee from even meeting for much of the first half of 2010.

China is at it again. The Sanctions Committee is scheduled to deliver its quarterly report on compliance with UN sanctions on February 23. China appears to be blocking consideration of a new Panel of Experts report, this time over the issue of the DPRK’s uranium enrichment program. According to Reuters, which broke the story, the Panel's report says that North Korea almost certainly has several more undisclosed enrichment-related facilities that are serious violations of the U.N. sanctions. The Panel’s judgment is informed by conversations with U.S. nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, who saw around 2,000 centrifuges on his November 2010 trip to Yongbyon.

Duyeon Kim at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation is asking all of the right questions about this latest episode, which parallels its behavior with respect to the Sudan sanctions Panel of experts. But the core issue appears to be China’s reluctance to deal with the North Korean question through the UN, or even to acknowledge the extent of North Korea’s HEU program. Tough sanctions enforcement from Beijing? Fugetaboutit!

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