Peeved by North Korean missile launches and starting to realize that China is not going to help with North Korea, last week the Trump Administration imposed sanctions against a Chinese bank, two individuals, and a shipping firm for facilitating illegal transactions with the rogue state.
This is sensible – Mr. Trump was wise to hold plenty in reserve. But there are a few things to consider about sanctions:
Done right, sanctions – financial sanctions in particular – will raise merry hell with the Kim regime and also discomfort China. But they would have been more effective ten years ago.
North Korea and China were more vulnerable to economic and military pressure back then – and now have less reason to cave in to the Americans. Both countries see themselves as stronger, and in fact they are: the PRC with its improved military capabilities and a bigger global economic footprint, and North Korea with nuclear weapons and missiles that are just about “there.”
But “timing” also matters to the country imposing sanctions. On the US side the North Korea threat is such that even some earlier advocates of “strategic patience” or negotiations now realize a reckoning can’t be postponed much longer.
One wonders if the US has the stomach to see sanctions through. There’s a tendency to think – recall McNamara and North Vietnam – that by ratcheting up pressure by degrees you can modify the other side’s behavior just as you wish. Thus, slap on the right sanctions, wait awhile, problem solved – or so the thinking goes.
But to shape behavior, sanctions need to be broadly applied and punitive. They need to be cold-blooded, and not eased up until you’ve achieved what you want. This includes being willing to force the collapse of the Kim regime and being willing to fight if it lashes out. The US also needs to be ready to up-end its relationship with the PRC. No small thing.
What about American willingness to do this – especially once North Korea and the Chinese “bite back”? Until a few months ago, the US government wasn’t even willing to publicly call China an adversary There will be an American chorus calling for going easy on China – citing economic ties and the need to avoid war at all costs.
As for North Korea, over the last 25 years Republican and Democratic administrations alike have preferred talks and bribes while waiting for a Chinese deus ex machina to rein in North Korea.
But, one often hears, “sanctions have failed.” No. Real sanctions have never been tried.
The US government never even cracked down on North Korea’s easy-to-uncover global moneymaking operations. For example, the US said nothing as Japan – its main Asian ally – allowed tens of millions of dollars to flow from Korean-Japanese residents to North Korea annually for many years – until PM Abe squeezed the pipeline.
The North Koreans and Chinese might be forgiven for thinking that – despite their tough talk – the Americans will always go wobbly, and give in.
Regime staying in power?
Sanctions that might work on a country such as Canada work differently on dictatorships. Regimes like the Kim family’s have a certain staying power built on thoroughgoing repression and willingness to brutalize their subjects.
However, such regimes can be surprisingly brittle – as in the case of Romania’s Ceausescu, Hoxha in Albania, and even the East Germans – when finances are choked or they lose the support of a powerful foreign benefactor. And terrorizing one’s citizens makes enemies – who reappear (or at least the surviving kin do) when opportunity permits.
Given that 90% of North Korea’s trade involves the PRC in some fashion – not to mention China’s historic assistance to the North’s missile and nuclear programs – so-called “secondary sanctions” targeting the PRC in order to get at North Korea are commonsensical.
The Trump administration’s recent sanctioning of the Chinese bank and other entities means little by itself, however – unless it’s the first step towards something harsher. Time will tell. If the US government applies serious penalties on the Peoples’ Bank of China instead of on the little known Dandong Bank, we will know things are getting serious.
How feasible is pressuring China?
A Washington DC think-tank, C4ADS, recently identified a small number of Chinese companies responsible for a disproportionate amount of trade with North Korea.
With some imagination and effort it is possible to give China’s leadership a choice between earning millions from business with North Korea or making tens of billions from business with the United States.
But will this be enough to finally convince China to crack down on Korea? Nobody knows – though it’s worth finding out given what’s at stake.
Recent and past history suggests China can absorb a near-infinite amount of misery. But while China can probably absorb sanctions, the CCP leadership cannot.
Thus, besides targeting Chinese financial and trade institutions, the US should consider “personal” sanctions on select Chinese leaders who have assets and relatives in the United States or within reach. That will get their attention.
The US Treasury’s intelligence capabilities are good, and it probably has all the evidence it needs to go after the PRC (and other countries). The Bush administration’s unwisely aborted effort against Banco Delta Asia in 2006 offered a taste of what’s possible.
Only one piece of the puzzle
Sanctions, even tough ones, are ultimately just one piece of the puzzle. They are best applied as part of a broader strategy involving military force (actual or threatened) and diplomatic efforts to isolate a regime.
Most importantly, sanctions need to make life miserable for the ruling class – there can be no half measures, the pain of which tyrants easily shift onto their citizens.
We will know soon enough if the Trump administration, unlike its predecessors, will play rough with North Korea – and China. A broad, coherent strategy, including real sanctions – and ensuring those sanctions hurt – is essential.
Grant Newsham is a Senior Research Fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo
Shut up, go back to your yankee home before the world decides YOU have been living too good while burning other people’s down and its time to burn yours down too. By the deaf tone of this article towards all the risks involved for NK’s immediate neighbors it seems its long over due.
Asians need security formost by and for Asians, not for the interest of US. NK will be easily handled in this format. US’s a proven selfish, ignorant provocateur in recent decades and under trump there’s sign of it ever gets what it done wrong. Get out.
America says God Bless America but its biggest trading partner is godless china.Every American president & politician of america has more faith in chinese money than God & they have prioritized their principles accordingly.China will defend North Korea because if Kim falls they will be next one to go under…..their project Asia to occupy & encroach land will now be accelerated…most likely they will bring a tough leader in place of XI who can execute quickly land encroachments.
Nuke China and Kim would beg to shine Trump’s shoes
Sanctions on China = Economical disaster for the USA
Sanctions on North Korea = Increased tension and arms sale to “less” US friendly nations
To grab the vunerable Xi’s testicles, the Trump dude is advised to take full advantage of his tiny hands.
The problem is XI & Chinese military are playing a poker game with Americans.They have changed the status quo with a small shot of testing a Nuke ICBM.Next they will grab Bhutan & see whether american public will risk Newyork/Los angeles for Bhutan.So the chinese have changed status quo.Now the point is chinese military will say we need to grab bhutan if XI disagrees to gobble Bhutan they will find Hua to do the grabbing.
The West still doesn’t understand the koreans.
The more you beat them, the more they will persevere in their ideology and way of thinking.
The war or sanctions are really not the solution.
There should be done something from inside, not from outside.
Something from outside it will always be seen as an aggression and themselves as martyred by foreigner invaders.
The civilians are really on their rulers side. Blame the 70 years old propaganda and, most importantly, their korean way of being.
Also you know how the chinese think they will say i spend 200 billion dollars for military,it is not meant to do a beauty pageant show…it is there to execute like the great chinese emperor Ming….if not for ming china would have been as small as Bhutan….So Mr XI take your responsibility seriously & do land encroachments
Could someone condemn Kim Jong Un?!
There was one single idiot who made a pact with US, disarmed himself, with US guaranteeing his security, and now he is dead. Killed with the first occasion by US. His name was Gaddafi.
They want Kim Jong Un to disarm himself?!
Daniel Maraamu according to me chinese are very lucky…if they win war they will impose dog urine,if they lose still they get to eat dogs…..like it happenned to them 150 years back when Indian army was in beijing
I would like to ask the leadership of the Asian Times one simple question? Why do you allow this dope to keep contributing articles to the Asia Times? WHY? This dude is so clueless it is hurting the credibility of your news site!!
North Korea is a small, impoverished nation terrorised by USA. The main reason for all this irrational hatred thrown at the tiny nation is to keep USA’s military bases in South Korea in order to threaten China.
It’s a shame that USA cannot behave like a civilised nation.
He may be working for some branch of US ‘government’?
This piece was written by the CIA
The Atimes has gone the way of dogs… of David Glodman. He used to come here prefess great love for China, and so sure China will hate someone for religious religious reasons even greater than his zoinst state Israel, and will do ZZoinist bid of killing for them as American is doing now. He used to come here writing about his great hatred for Iran and how Iran will be collaping any day now… now he has hired some third grade writers to write about hatred of China, and once a while come out here to sale something as he did in an other thread: China should buy Israel’s greatest desaltine machine and sale it to Pakistan, he claimed, while Israel is building bombs with India for delivering on Chinese and Pakistan cities.
The haters are Zionist Neocons and Hindu fundementalist. They bring him clicks for money, with no moral, typical of zionist. The other day one of zionist news paper was proclaim the exceptionalism of Israel drone opperator suffer no PTSD, but American counter part does. In a way, America maybe savable, but Israel is a walking copse.
I really do hope Chinese government taking note of zoinist squatter’s behivor and pay them back in kind.
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