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(News Focus) Doubts linger over efficacy of UNSC sanctions resolution

All Headlines 00:50 March 03, 2016

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, March 3 (Yonhap) -- The latest United Nations resolution that aims to punish North Korea's recent provocations has been touted as the "strongest-ever" non-military action taken so far by the international community, but doubts linger over whether it could effectively curb Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, local observers said Thursday.

International affairs analysts here said it remains to be seen whether U.N. member states would fully enforce the fresh sanctions against the North for its Jan. 6 nuclear test and Feb. 7 rocket launch. They also pointed to some loopholes that would still allow the isolated state some breathing room.

After nearly two months of negotiations, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted the resolution, which the U.S. says is the strongest in more than two decades. It aims to cut Pyongyang's access to hard currency, which can be funneled into the country’s nuclear and missile programs.

In an unprecedented move, the resolution places a "sectoral ban" on the North's exports of coal and iron ore that comprise more than 40 percent of the country's exports to China, the North's largest trading partner.

But the ban is not applicable when export earnings are used for "livelihood purposes." This has left open the possibility that the North could sell to China coal and other banned resources on the pretext of supporting people's livelihoods, analysts said.

To counter this, a government official in Seoul said that a set of guidelines would be crafted to determine such "livelihood purposes." But Beijing's potentially arbitrary interpretation of the sanctions can undermine the efficacy of the resolution.

"There are some loopholes that the North Korean regime would take advantage of to maintain its access to foreign currency that can be channeled into the nuclear program," said Chang Yong-seok, a senior analyst at Seoul National University's Institute for Peace and Unification.

"This raises questions whether theses sanctions could pressure the regime to the extent that it cannot help but renounce its nuclear ambitions."

Chang added that the new resolution does not include any measures to prevent the North from extorting earnings from its overseas laborers. The North is thought to rake in some US$200 million each year from more than 50,000 North Koreans working mostly in Russia, China and the Middle East.

The new package of sanctions moreover fails to target the North's growing tourism industry through which Pyongyang is thought to earn tens of millions of dollars each year. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has prioritized tourism to spur economic growth.

Some analysts pointed out that the resolution, while banning aviation fuel that can be used in rockets, still allows China to continue supplying other types of oil to its wayward ally. A complete ban on oil supplies would put serious pressure on the North, but China has been reluctant to approve such a step due to fears of instability on its doorstep.

Other North Korean watchers said that the most crucial issue is the implementation of the sanctions, with experts emphasizing the need to strengthen the role of the existing sanctions panel under the Security Council or establish a new body to check the enforcement of the resolution.

"There should be a permanent organization -- rather than a temporary one -- in charge of constantly monitoring the enforcement of the resolution and encouraging each state to exhaustively apply the sanctions," said Cho Bong-hyun, a senior researcher at the Industrial Bank of Korea.

He speculated that in the beginning, China and other U.N. member states may want to show that they apply the sanctions rigorously, but the implementation could loosen as time passes by.

Beijing has so far given mixed messages, further stoking concerns.

China's top nuclear envoy Wu Dawei said during his recent visit to Seoul that his country would "fully" implement the new UNSC resolution of sanctions. But China's foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei cautioned against a negative impact of the resolution on regular North Koreans' livelihoods.

Some observers, meanwhile, raised concerns over Russia's will to implement the sanctions. Moscow was a last-minute holdout that delayed the adoption of the UNSC resolution after Washington and Beijing reached agreement on a draft resolution last week.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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