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UN Considering Oil Embargo Against North Korea

United Nations Ambassadors Vasily Nebenzya of Russia, left, Liu Jieyi of China, center, and Nikki Haley of the U.S., right, confer after the United Nations non-proliferation meeting on North Korea, Sept. 4, 2017 at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
UN Considering Oil Embargo Against North Korea
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Members of the United Nations Security Council are considering new sanctions for North Korea in reaction to its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

However, experts say the support of China is critical to increase pressure on the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Thursday, “The U.N. Security Council should respond further and take necessary measures.”

But, Wang said “sanctions and pressure” must be tied to “dialogue and negotiations.” China has said that increased restrictions will not ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

U.S. President Donald Trump spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping about North Korea on Wednesday. Trump said Xi agreed on the need to answer North Korea’s nuclear test, saying, “He does not want to see what is happening there either.”

On Monday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the 15-member UN Security Council would negotiate a version of a resolution to place new sanctions on North Korea. She said the U.S. would seek a vote by Monday.

On August 5, the UN Security Council approved resolution 2371. It came as the result of two long-range missile tests that North Korea carried out in July. The UN Security Council barred North Korea from exporting coal, iron, lead and seafood, along with other restrictions. The measures were aimed at cutting about one-third of North Korea's $3 billion in export income.

However, now there are calls to cut North Korea’s fuel imports in an effort to build pressure on its leaders.

The proposed resolution

VOA received a copy of the new proposed resolution on North Korea on Wednesday. The proposal calls for stopping North Korean cloth and clothing exports, and seeks to put limits on North Koreans working in other countries. But the biggest restriction would ban the sale of oil, refined petroleum products, and natural gas liquids to the North.

Support from Russia and China is needed for an oil embargo to work. Both countries are permanent members of the Security Council. They also are energy exporters to North Korea.

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin did not offer support to the idea of blocking North Korea’s oil imports. Putin spoke during a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at an economic meeting in Vladivostok, Russia.

China provides North Korea with most of its oil and gas.

Joseph DeTrani is a former special diplomat to the six party talks. They were nuclear talks including both Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the U.S. DeTrani says the leverage that the Chinese “have on crude oil is immense.”

While sharp limits have been placed on North Korean coal (pictured), the latest resolution could target the country's oil imports.
While sharp limits have been placed on North Korean coal (pictured), the latest resolution could target the country's oil imports.

But he says an oil embargo would destabilize North Korea’s economy, something China opposes.

Although China and North Korea have had strained relations, DeTrani says Chinese public support for an oil ban is unlikely.

“China doesn’t want to make North Korea a total enemy. They want to have some leverage. They don’t want to totally alienate the leadership in Pyongyang.”

Richard Bush is with the Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Center. He says China has to walk a fine line in its policies towards its eastern neighbor.

Bush says China wants to influence North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile tests. At the same time, China worries that a complete oil embargo would cause the country to collapse. That situation would create a refugee crisis on China’s border.

Instead, Bush says China may try to create some flexibility in possible new sanctions by setting a limit for yearly oil imports, or by slowly decreasing them.

He says China “wants to preserve its own freedom of action and flexibility, but at the same time be responsive to the concerns of the international community.”

Yun Sun is a China expert at the Stimson Center in Washington DC. She says China has not shown that it is willing to cut off the North’s oil supplies. She said it might press for oil exports to be considered a humanitarian exception to UN Security Council sanctions.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Jenny Lee reported this story for VOA News with contributions from Margaret Besheer and Steve Herman. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

critical – adj. very important, without which nothing can be done

leverage – n. influence that can be used to get a desired result

alienate – v. to cause to become isolated or apart from the group

walk a fine line – idiom to try to deal with two opposing issues or sides to avoid conflict

flexibility – n. the quality of being able to adjust or make small changes

exception – n. a case where a rule does not apply

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