It is time for Beijing to be serious about sanctions

By Frank Ching

North Korea’s failed missile test on Sunday provides an opportunity for the United States to press for more stringent sanctions and for China to demonstrate its willingness to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. Even though the missile blew up, the attempted launch was a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. This means the U.S. can now ask for additional sanctions. Clearly, those in place aren’t enough. If they were, North Korea wouldn’t have been able to conduct over the years five nuclear tests and a series of ballistic missile tests.

The Pyongyang regime is working overtime to develop a long-range missile capability, one that will enable it to deliver a nuclear weapon to the continental United States.

China has close economic ties with North Korea, despite U.N. sanctions, which is why U.S. President Donald Trump went out of his way to woo the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, in recent weeks.

When Trump hosted Xi at Mar-a-Lago earlier this month, the American leader made an unusual offer. “You want to make a great deal?” he asked Xi. “Solve the problem in North Korea.” In return, he said, the U.S. will accept trade deficits with China. After Xi’s return to China, Trump continued to pressure him. On April 11, he tweeted: “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!” That night, Trump called Xi up on the phone and the two men discussed North Korea again.

The following day, Trump tweeted that he “had a very good call last night with the President of China concerning the menace of North Korea,” But Xi in Beijing said that he had urged Trump to seek a “peaceful solution.”

From China’s standpoint, a peaceful solution means not only sanctions but a return to talks between the U.S. and North Korea. Talks are no doubt needed but sanctions haven’t been given a chance, mostly because the sanctions regime is full of holes.

Earlier this month, China’s General Administration of Customs said that the country’s trade with North Korea grew 37.4 percent in the first quarter of this year. China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner. Beijing argues that sanctions don’t prohibit trade. That’s true as far as it goes.