Forget the Latest UN Sanctions: It's Time to Squeeze North Korea

A U.S. Dollar note is seen in this June 22, 2017 illustration photo. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration/File Photo​

Past administrations have not employed the full range of American power.

And in any event, the United States need not adopt such workarounds because it has not used its power to coerce China and Russia into following its position at the UN in the first place. The Trump administration could have, for example, given the Chinese no choice but to accept the American proposal by telling Beijing that it would impose what are in effect death sentences on the largest Chinese banks.

The administration has been dropping hints that designations of large Chinese banks were in the cards. On June 29, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Bank of Dandong, a smallish Chinese institution, a “primary money laundering concern” pursuant to Section 311 of the Patriot Act. That designation denied the bank access to dollars. Without access to dollars, it cannot transact business in the world’s dominant currency.

The administration has not designated the biggest Chinese banks, such as Bank of China, which was named in a 2016 report for devising and operating a money-laundering scheme for Pyongyang, or the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world’s largest bank by assets, also a suspect in this dirty activity.

According to press reports of the last few days, large Chinese banks recently have informally closed accounts of North Koreans and refused to accept new North Korean accounts. Sign of progress? Not necessarily. These institutions have undertaken similar clean-up measures in the past only to restart North Korean business later, and there is no indication that this time is different. The order from Beijing to stop North Korean business is, by the way, a sign of concern about Patriot Act designations.

In short, the Chinese defy the United States at the UN because successive American administrations have not employed the full range of American power. In the past, one can understand the reluctance to resort to extraordinary means because the North Koreans were far from being able to put nuclear warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Now, however, Kim’s technicians are on the cusp of being able to integrate all their capabilities and kill Americans by the tens of millions, if they can’t do so already. As Nikki Haley told the Security Council at its emergency session on September 4, “We have kicked the can down the road long enough. There is no more road left.”

Resolution 2375 was at best a half-measure. Some may think half-measures are better than no measures. Not Haley. “An additional Security Council resolution that does not significantly increase the international pressure on North Korea is of no value,” she declared in a statement issued July 30. “In fact, it is worse than nothing.”

Resolution 2375, to borrow her words, is worse than nothing. Why? “The U.S. government had been moving towards sanctioning Chinese companies and individuals, but they have backed away from that,” explained Anthony Ruggiero of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies to the Los Angeles Times. “I fear people in the Trump administration will now say, ‘Well, we can’t do anything more because we have to give the Chinese the chance to implement the new resolution.”

Chinese implementation, of course, is unlikely. China has violated the first seven sets of Security Council sanctions. It will surely ignore the eighth.

And what about the ninth? “The bottom line is that it’s the same old thing,” said a “U.N. official” to the Los Angeles paper about Resolution 2375. “It is not going to get implemented.”

Gordon G. Chang is the author of Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World. Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.

Image: A U.S. Dollar note is seen in this June 22, 2017 illustration photo. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration/File Photo​