The AFP news agency reported on Wednesday afternoon that a draft U.N. resolution prepared by the United States would impose an oil embargo against North Korea.
Reuters adds that the draft resolution also bans North Korean textile exports, prevents North Korean laborers (who are virtually slaves rented out by their government) from working abroad, freezes the assets of dictator Kim Jong-un, his political party, and four of his top officials, and ban Kim from traveling outside his country.
“U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has said she wants the 15-member council to vote Monday on the draft resolution to impose new sanctions over North Korea’s sixth and largest nuclear test. However, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia has said a Monday vote may be ‘a little premature,’” Reuters reports.
If the vote succeeds, it would represent the ninth, and by far the strongest, round of international sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear missile program. The current sanctions regime caps North Korean labor, which is a major source of revenue for the Kim regime, but does not ban it entirely. Banning textile exports would cost the Communist nation about $750 million annually.
Support for the resolution from China and Russia, both of which supply a great deal of oil to North Korea, is uncertain. China is also the primary customer for North Korean textile exports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier on Wednesday that he opposes cutting off North Korea’s oil supply, despite an appeal for support from South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Putin argued that further sanctions would be ineffective in deterring North Korea’s behavior, would impose an unacceptable humanitarian cost to North Korea’s impoverished citizens, and might destabilize the North Korean government.
“We should not act out of emotions and push North Korea into a dead end. We must act with calm and avoid steps that could raise tensions,” Putin said after meeting with Moon, according to South Korean media reports quoted by the New York Times.
As for China, the NYT quotes speculation that Beijing might have grown sufficiently annoyed with Kim Jong-un to support tougher sanctions, but shutting down China’s “Friendship Pipeline” to North Korea would be an act of tremendous symbolic importance, as well as potentially crashing the rickety North Korean economy and unleashing a flood of refugees into China, which is one of China’s greatest fears.
China and Russia are currently engaged in a bizarre struggle for the affections of North Korea, so if Putin is clearly signaling that Russia will not cooperate with oil and trade embargoes, China might be unwilling to surrender its influence and market share in North Korea to ambitious Moscow.
As the Times analysis notes, North Korea’s oil stockpiles are largely earmarked for military use, guaranteeing that hardship from an embargo would hit the civilian populace first, while the military retained enough fuel to fight for a month or more. In another unique North Korean twist, civilian vehicles are commonly designed to run on charcoal, so a fuel embargo might lead to massive deforestation and accompanying environmental horrors, from flooding to famine.
Furthermore, the China-North Korea “Friendship Pipeline” is constructed in such a way that shutting it down for more than a few hours could permanently damage it.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated on Wednesday that he will try to convince Russia to cooperate with tougher sanctions on North Korea, including an oil embargo, when he attends an economic forum with Russia and South Korea in Vladivostok.