September 12, 2017 4:26 am JST  (Updated September 12, 2017 7:50 am JST)

UN passes toughest sanctions yet on North Korea

Beijing, Moscow back measures to slash oil exports

ARIANA KING, Nikkei staff writer

Ambassadors to the UN vote on the North Korean sanctions in a Security Council meeting Monday. © Reuters

UNITED NATIONS -- The Security Council on Monday unanimously approved its harshest sanctions so far against Pyongyang, with China and Russia coming on board to back revised measures that do not include a total ban on oil exports.

By imposing new restrictions, the measures seek to cut crude oil and petroleum products bound for North Korea by 30%. Unlike sanctions adopted after the North's two nuclear tests in 2016, Monday's passage was remarkable for the speedy agreement by the council.

The international community formed a united front just a week after the testing of what Pyongyang claims to be a hydrogen bomb, expediting a negotiation process that took nearly three months after the last nuclear detonation. This marks the Security Council's ninth sanctions resolution against North Korea.

"In short, these are by far the strongest measures ever imposed on North Korea," said Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the U.N., after the vote. "They give us a much better chance to halt the regime's ability to fuel and finance its nuclear and missile programs."

"But we all know these steps only work if all nations implement them completely and aggressively," she added. "Today's resolution would not have happened without the strong relationship that has developed between President [Donald] Trump and Chinese President Xi [Jinping]."

Instead of a total oil ban, the U.S.-led sanctions aim to limit Pyongyang's access to refined petroleum to 500,000 barrels between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 and up to 2 million barrels a year starting in 2018. Crude oil trade is to be capped at current levels. The text adds a total ban on all condensates and natural gas liquids.

The measures also seek to clamp down on the North's most lucrative sectors, adding a ban on all textile exports -- its biggest export after coal and other minerals in 2016, totaling $752 million, according to data from the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency. Pyongyang's overseas labor program, first targeted in the latest round of sanctions in August, will also see further restrictions. A previous provision capping the number of North Korean laborers made way for a ban on new work authorizations.

Up to 147,600 North Korean laborers are estimated to work abroad, many in Russia and China.

Though supporters consider it a strong text, the resolution is considerably weaker than an earlier version that sought a total oil embargo against Pyongyang and would have frozen assets of Kim Jong Un as well as national airline Air Koryo.

Ship inspection measures that would have allowed nonconsensual inspections of designated vessels on the high seas were also scrapped. The new text lets ships refuse inspections but requires countries to notify the Security Council of any such incidents.

Regardless of how strong the measures are, their effectiveness remains in the hands of the U.N. member states that implement them. But a report last week by the committee tasked with monitoring sanctions implementation indicates that bringing everyone aboard with proper implementation is no easy feat.

The North earned at least $270 million from prohibited-resource exports between February and August, according to the report, despite progressively harsher sanctions.

Sebastiano Cardi, Italy's ambassador to the U.N. and chair of the Security Council's North Korea sanctions committee, suggested before the vote that the resolution would create a lot of new tasks for the committee.

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