December 24, 2017 2:07 am JST

China, Japan endorse latest sanctions on North Korea

Beijing cites 'moderation,' Tokyo lauds 'unprecedented' pressure

TSUYOSHI NAGASAWA and HIROSHI MINEGISHI, Nikkei staff writers

The U.N. Security Council's latest resolution on North Korea impose further sanctions on fuel imports.

WASHINGTON/SEOUL -- China and Japan gave positive appraisals Saturday of a U.N. Security Council resolution that tightened sanctions on North Korea the day before -- but for different reasons.

China credited the sanctions for their moderation, while Japan praised them for raising pressure on the reclusive nation to an "unprecedented" level.

Aiming to exert maximum economic pressure, the sanctions close loopholes allowing revenue into the country that supports North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. The Security Council unanimously adopted new sanctions that further constrict the North's energy supplies, tighten curbs on smuggling, and on the use of North Korean workers overseas.

The core of U.S.-led resolution bans about 90% of gasoline, diesel and other refined oil products exports to North Korea. The resolution also bans exports of industrial equipment, machinery and industrial metals, and requires that countries using North Korean laborers send them home within two years.

The U.S. has had to walk a fine diplomatic line with China and Russia, the North's two biggest trading partners. Negotiations continued right up to the vote.

Immediately after the adoption, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, conveyed her gratitude, particularly to China.

On Saturday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying issued a statement saying the resolution "moderately strengthened" existing sanctions. Her remark was an apparently positive evaluation of the decision to forgo tougher measures, such as a complete halt on crude oil supplies -- something the U.S. had sought.

The statement described the situation on the Korean Peninsula as "complex and sensitive," adding that China called on related countries to "keep exercising self-restraint and actively make efforts to ease tensions and resolve the issue appropriately."

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe released a statement Saturday saying the resolution would strengthen sanctions to an "unprecedented level." It said that Japan, as a member of the Security Council, will "strongly urge all U.N. member states to thoroughly implement the resolution."

The statement demanded that North Korea change its policy direction, saying it could "could grow its economy exponentially if it followed the right path," noting its diligent labor force and rich resources.

"We press the country to immediately show a serious will and specific actions toward the denuclearization of the peninsula," the statement said.

Some observers were unconvinced that the sanctions would have much impact.

Tsuneo Watanabe, senior research fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, said there was not much new in the sanctions, and he was starting to feel the situation was "reaching a dead end."

A senior U.S. government official said the options for changing North Korea's stance were becoming increasingly limited.

Much of the concerns center on how serious China and Russia are about the issue.

On Saturday, a South Korean foreign ministry authority released an estimate that the latest sanctions would result in a loss for North Korea of about $250 million in foreign currency revenue from exports. That would be equivalent to nearly 10% of its annual exports before sanctions were imposed. On top of previous sanctions, the latest ones mean that nearly all of the country's exports are under restrictions.

The requirement that North Korean workers abroad return home within two years would reduce the county's foreign currency revenue by $200 million-$500 million.

Since North Korean workers overseas will not be sent home immediately, foreign currency will continue flowing into the country for the time being. These revenues will taper of only gradually.

"The direct impact on North Korea will start to appear as early as next spring," said a North Korean source knowledgeable with the matter.

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