New U.N. Sanctions on N. Korea: What Do They Mean?

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The U.N. Security Council has unanimously adopted new sanctions on North Korea, including restrictions on oil shipments, to punish Pyongyang for its sixth and largest nuclear test.

But Washington toned down its initial proposals to secure backing from China and Russia.

Here are some key questions on UNSC resolution 2375, and its attempt to end the North's nuclear weapons and missile programs.

- What impact will the oil measures have?

The new resolution ends natural gas shipments to North Korea, caps crude oil shipments at their current levels, and puts a ceiling on refined oil products such as petrol and diesel.

North Korea has little oil of its own, relying on imports to keep its citizens and soldiers moving.

The U.S. initially sought an oil embargo, which China -- North Korea's sole ally and main trading partner -- strongly opposed.

Instead the resolution limits crude oil shipments from any country to the amount sent to the North in the last 12 months.

Beijing does not publish statistics for crude oil shipments to the North, shrouding the issue in secrecy, but is believed to supply around 4 million barrels a year. 

The resolution also limits the North to importing 2 million barrels a year of refined oil products -- representing a 15 percent cut based on U.N.-WTO International Trade Center estimates, although some analysts put the effect as high as 56 percent.

"It's a red light for the growth of the North Korean economy," said Cheong Seong-Chang of Seoul's Sejong Institute, "but will not have huge impact on North Korea's military because the crude oil supply remains the same."

Crucially, the resolution includes an exemption for "livelihood purposes" -- similar to clauses in past resolutions that have been used as loopholes.

Kim Hyun-Wook, professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, warned there are "no means to check how much crude oil is delivered through the pipeline" between China and North Korea.

Koo Kab-Woo of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said the measures carried symbolic value as the "first U.S. attempt at touching North Korea's economic lifeline."

- How significant is the textiles ban?

The resolution bans the import and export of textiles -- both fabric and clothing -- by the North.

Textiles are one of North Korea's major exports, estimated by Rajiv Biswas of IHS Markit to value $750 million.

Analysts say the move could cut off a major source of foreign currency for Pyongyang.

China supplies materials to the North, where they are made into clothing in factories using cheap labor, and re-exported to China.

Most go to China and Russia, so the effects will depend on enforcement by Beijing and Moscow, said Koo.

"It all depends on China and Russia's willingness."

A U.N. report published at the weekend said Pyongyang collected at least $270 million over a six month-period this year by exporting "almost all of the commodities prohibited" by existing sanctions.

- What about overseas workers?

The resolution bars countries from issuing new permits to the roughly 93,000 North Korean laborers working abroad.

Their toil, mainly at construction sites in Middle Eastern countries as well as Russia and China, earns revenue for Pyongyang.

There is an exemption for existing contracts. Analysts are skeptical about any immediate effects of the ban, but say it could increase pressure on Pyongyang over time.

- Will cargo inspections increase?

Under the measure, countries are authorized to inspect ships suspected of carrying banned North Korean cargo -- but must first seek the consent of the vessel's flag state, limiting the impact.

Washington had sought authorization for searches by force, which Koo said China and Russia "strongly opposed."

North Korea is suspected of engaging in arms trade with countries in Africa and the Middle East.

The U.N. report said it was investigating "chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation" between North Korea and Syria.

U.N. member states had interdicted shipments destined for Syria believed to be from the North's state-owned arms dealer, the Korea Mining and Development Trading Corporation (KOMID), it said. 

- Will the sanctions curb Pyongyang's ambitions?

Analysts say the sanctions were significantly watered down from the initial draft proposal to get China and Russia on board and are skeptical about whether they will curb Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

North Korea is already under multiple U.N. sanctions but has still made rapid progress in its nuclear and missile programs.

"It is not enough to cause pain," said Go Myong-Hyun at the Asan Institute of Policy Studies.

Instead, said Koh of Dongguk University, the new sanctions will drive Pyongyang to accelerate its programs.

"North Korea will try to become a nuclear state as quickly as possible to negotiate with the U.S. as an equal before the effect of the sanctions fully kicks in," he said.

Pyongyang habitually attributes U.N. measures to the "hostile" U.S., which it blames for the body's actions.

And Kim Hyun-Wook of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, predicted: "The sanctions will only provide North Korea with an excuse for further provocations, such as an ICBM launch."

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