Aug. 14, 2017
China’s Russia Problem on North Korea
The Trump Administration has hailed a recent 15-0 UN Security Council vote imposing new sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) as a diplomatic victory. The sanctions include a complete ban on coal, iron, and lead exports, a major source of foreign currency for Pyongyang. Success will depend on how effectively China, as North Korea’s predominant trading partner, enforces the new sanctions. In deciding how vigorously to implement them, Beijing will have to weigh multiple competing factors, including assessments of North Korea’s reaction, Chinese public expectations, and the possibility of additional U.S. secondary sanctions on Chinese firms. A less obvious, but potentially crucial, variable in China’s calculus is whether Russia will take advantage of a curtailed Sino-DPRK economic relationship to build its own influence in North Korea.