Tougher North Korea sanctions could hit home, say analysts
SEOUL: Newly proposed sanctions on North Korea could have a significant effect on the isolated country's already struggling economy, analysts said ahead of an expected UN Security Council vote on Friday, which will hinge on support from China and Russia.
Tensions have been rising over North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes, which it pursues in defiance of years of different UN Security Council resolutions, with bellicose rhetoric from the North and the White House.
But US diplomats have made clear they are seeking a diplomatic solution and have proposed a number of new, tougher sanctions designed to ratchet up pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea regularly threatens to destroy South Korea, the United States and Japan and says its weapons programmes are necessary to counter US aggression. The United States stations 28,500 troops in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.
On Friday, a spokesperson for North Korea's foreign ministry called US President Donald Trump's recently released national security strategy the latest American policy seeking to "stifle our country and turn the entire Korean peninsula" into an outpost of American hegemony.
He said Trump was seeking "total subordination of the whole world".
The draft UN resolution, seen by Reuters on Thursday, seeks to ban nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum product exports to North Korea by capping them at 500,000 barrels a year and demand the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad within 12 months.
It would also cap crude oil supplies to North Korea at 4 million barrels a year, as well as ban a number of North Korean exports such as machinery, lumber, and other products and resources.
"If they were enforced, the cap on oil would be devastating for North Korea's haulage industry, for North Koreans who use generators at home or for productive activities, and for (state-owned enterprises) that do the same," said Peter Ward, a columnist for NK News, a website that tracks North Korea.
The forced repatriation of foreign workers would also cut off vital sources of foreign currency and investment not only for the government but also for North Korea's emerging market economy, he said.
"If such sanctions were enforced, they would thus impede and endanger North Korea's economic development." Asked about the effects of sanctions before these latest proposals were announced, Michael Kirby, who led a UN inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea, said cutting off fuel imports would be "a very serious step". "Cutting off oil, petroleum supplies would obviously have a very big impact on the ordinary population," he said.