The always intriguing question of just how tough China is willing to get with North Korea took another turn on Thursday, as China ordered the shutdown of every North Korean business venture in the country within 120 days.
“The agreement follows the sanctions against North Korea that the U.N. Security Council approved on Sept. 11. North Korean companies operate restaurants and other ventures, and laborers from the country work in Chinese factories,” Fox News reports.
Fox notes the order against North Korean businesses comes a week after Chinese banks were instructed to stop doing business with North Korean customers.
According to the Associated Press, Beijing agreed to the latest sanctions only after the United States “toned down a proposal for a total ban on oil exports to the North.” The Chinese remain uncomfortable with sanctions that would “hurt ordinary North Koreans,” or perhaps more to the point, provoke ordinary North Koreans into stampeding across the border into China. Beijing is also concerned about the costs imposed on Chinese businesses by cutting off trade with North Korea.
“We are working closely with China to execute this strategy and are clear-eyed in viewing the progress—growing, if uneven—that China has made on this front. We do see Chinese policy shifting,” a State Department official declared on Thursday.
The State Department asked Congress to hold off on taking action against North Korea that would hinder the Trump administration’s diplomatic efforts, which sounds like a plea not to pass bills that could drive China away. Some in Congress believe China still is not applying enough leverage against North Korea, citing estimates that North Korea’s economy actually grew recently.
The Economist suggests China and the United States have developed a closer relationship due to North Korea’s antics, which former U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus describes as genuinely disgusting and frustrating to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Chinese have gone so far as to permit speculation in their state-controlled media about how China, America, and South Korea could work together to manage the collapse of the Kim regime. They might not have been enthusiastic about barring their banks from dealing with North Korea, but they seem convinced that the U.S. Treasury Department is serious about sanctioning Chinese banks that continue to finance North Korea.
Unfortunately, the new spirit of cooperation is unlikely to last, as the Economist notes all of America’s next possible moves are anathema to Beijing: military action against North Korea, more missile-defense systems in South Korea, returning tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea or letting the South develop its own nuclear arsenal, and perhaps economic warfare strong enough to cause the kind of North Korean collapse China fears.
The Atlantic suspects that even the Chinese order to shut down North Korean businesses will be undermined with other measures that soften the blow, such as China’s last-minute import of 1.6 million tons of North Korean coal right before a U.N. ban on such imports went into effect.