NKorea to face sanctions for nuke, but China key

Thursday - 2/14/2013, 8:21pm EST

A South Korean army soldier walks by a signboard showing the distance to North Korean capital Pyongyang and that for South's capital Seoul from Imjingang Station near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. North Korea's neighbors bolstered their military preparations and mobilized scientists Wednesday to determine whether Pyongyang's third nuclear test, conducted in defiance of U.N. warnings, was as successful as the North claimed.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

FOSTER KLUG
Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- For the past decade, the world's most powerful nations have turned to sanctions in an attempt to punish North Korea for a series of rocket launches and nuclear tests. Their stated goal: to stop North Korea's march toward acquiring an arsenal of nuclear-armed long-range missiles.

The sanctions, however, have failed to slow Pyongyang down. It conducted a third nuclear test Tuesday despite warnings of more international punishment.

Once again countries are looking to the United Nations to tighten already harsh multilateral sanctions.

But the U.S. and its allies will also consider boosting their own national penalties against North Korean companies and individuals.

Here's a look at these countries' current non-U.N. sanctions and the reasons why many argue that for any real change to happen in North Korea, a reluctant China must also embrace tough, unilateral penalties against its ally.

CHINA

China is seen as the only major power with any real influence on North Korea as it pursues nuclear weapons. It provides most of North Korea's fuel, a good deal of its food and accounts for an increasing share of its trade and investment.

But despite recurring nuclear and missile tests by Pyongyang, Beijing has been reluctant to take unilateral action against a neighbor it sees as a valuable buffer between U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and Japan.

"China can make a difference," said Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul. "The question is whether it will make a difference."

Beijing's current options range from issuing harsh condemnation to supporting sterner U.N. sanctions, something it did after the North launched a rocket in December that the U.N. said was a cover for a banned missile test.

But many outsiders are pushing for more, including calls for China to restrict its food and fuel aid.

Beijing, for example, could turn "off the spigot of the Daqing pipeline that supplies (North Korea) with much of its oil, as Beijing did nearly a decade ago in March 2003," according to Elizabeth Economy, an Asia specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations.

But Kim Dong-gil, deputy director of the Center for Korean Peninsula Studies of Peking University, said that although China will likely sign on to whatever measures are agreed upon at the U.N., he strongly doubts China will take unilateral action against the North.

China's "unpleasant choice," Lankov said, is "between a nuclear, relatively stable North Korea, and a non-nuclear but unstable North Korea." For China, political collapse in North Korea "is a greater evil than North Korea's nuclear adventures."

Still, there is growing disgust among the government and the public in China with Pyongyang's behavior.

The nuclear test, which took place less than 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Chinese border, was widely criticized on China's popular Twitter-like Weibo microblogging service, with users calling it anti-social and urging the government to reconsider its assistance to the Pyongyang.

"Can China really allow this insane country to have nuclear weapons," wrote a user identified as Little Eagle King.

UNITED STATES

The U.S. does not maintain a comprehensive embargo against North Korea, as is sometimes presumed, and Americans are still free to travel there.

But legislation and executive orders, some dating back six decades, strictly regulate trade and aid, and assets are blocked for dozens of sanctioned North Korean companies, government agencies and individuals.

Washington is considered a sanctions trailblazer.

"Attention will now turn to Washington to see if the Obama administration lives up to its promise of significant repercussions if Pyongyang so blatantly and quickly disregards the latest U.N. resolution," said Bruce Klingner, a former U.S. intelligence official and now a North Korea analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.

Justification for U.S. restrictions includes Cold War-era legislation that regulates U.S. dealings with communist countries, worries about the spread of weapons of mass destruction and North Korea's poor record on human rights, religious freedom and human trafficking.

Trade between the countries is minimal. U.S. companies can export to North Korea, but have to apply for a license to do so.

For nearly all items, other than food and medicine, there is a presumption the request will be denied, according to a 2011 report by the Congressional Research Service. There are tight controls on access to computers and software. Arms transfers and sales are forbidden.

The Treasury Department must approve any imports from North Korea, and weighs all requests on proliferation concerns and on questions of who might profit. Transfers from the North Korean government itself are generally prohibited. Using a North Korea-flagged vessel for any transaction is prohibited.