The United Nations Security Council has adopted new sanctions against North Korea in response to the country's fifth nuclear test conducted in September. The latest sanction resolution is the sixth of its kind against Pyongyang since North Korea first carried out a nuclear test in 2006.
Previous U.N. sanctions had been getting tougher, but they were not without loopholes. The latest resolution is primarily aimed at covering such loopholes -- an appropriate measure judging from past experiences.
The greatest feature of the latest sanctions is the upper limit on North Korea's coal exports to other countries. While the North exported around $1 billion worth of coal last year, the amount will be limited to a maximum $400 million a year under the new sanctions. Regulations on the North's other mineral resource exports will also be strengthened. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power emphasized that the new measure will bring down the North's revenue by $800 million a year -- or 25 percent of its foreign currency revenue from exports.
Another U.N. sanction resolution adopted in March this year had banned North Korea from exporting mineral resources in principle, but exceptions were allowed if the revenues were to be used for people's livelihoods. Because China -- the largest importer from North Korea -- was granted an exception on condition that it filed relevant papers, the North did not actually suffer much from the sanctions. We must make sure that similar leniency will not happen with the ceilings set under the latest sanctions. At the same time, China is urged to take a tougher stance to thwart smuggling from North Korea across the border between the two countries.
The latest resolution has for the first time addressed concerns that North Korea has been using its foreign currency revenue from dispatching workers overseas in its nuclear and missile development programs. As the North's annual foreign currency revenue from the dispatch of workers is estimated to top $1 billion, the international community needs to step up its monitoring on the money flow.
The new resolution also uses stronger terms in addressing concerns over the human rights situation in North Korea, with its notorious public executions and abductions of foreign nationals in mind.
North Korea has detested having its leader Kim Jong Un implicated as a figure responsible for the country's human rights problems. To boost pressure on the North over human rights issues would also be effective in applying psychological pressure on the country's leadership. The international community may well consider adopting this approach.
It will be difficult to block the North's nuclear development through sanctions alone. It will ultimately be necessary to talk North Korea into abandoning its nuclear ambitions. In this respect the United States has a major role to play.
It remains unclear what kind of stance U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will adopt toward Pyongyang. At one stage he suggested direct communications with Kim Jong Un, only to later hint at thrusting all responsibility on China.
The North has accelerated its nuclear and missile development programs, as President Barack Obama's administration failed to take substantial measures under its "strategic patience" policy. The U.S. can no longer sit on the sidelines.
Cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea is essential in countering North Korea's threat to the region. The Japanese government is urged to make diplomatic efforts to encourage Trump to become aware of the serious situation surrounding North Korea.