China has in the past been a key supporter of the North Korean communist regime, but that support may be dying out. After voting at the United Nations to approve sanctions on the isolated communist state, the Chinese leadership has recently signaled its plans to enforce these sanctions.
President Donald Trump spoke with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Sept. 18, and, according to a White House readout, “the two leaders committed to maximizing pressure on North Korea through vigorous enforcement of United Nations Security Council resolutions.”
The new U.N. sanctions on North Korea prevent exports of coal, iron, lead, and other items. China announced on Aug. 14 that it would support the sanctions.
After the U.N. Security Council approved another round of sanctions on Sept. 11, China again signaled it would support them—although the sanctions did not include a proposed ban on oil shipments. According to energy news website Oilprice.com, close to 90 percent of North Korea’s documented crude oil supply comes from China.
Japanese financial newspaper Nikkei Asian Review stated previously that blocking North Korea’s oil supply would “strike at the lifeblood of Pyongyang’s weapons programs.”
Despite the sanctions that were approved, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has continued his missile tests, the most recent being his Sept. 14 launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile fired over Japan.
Following the launch, Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Mannin said, according to the Department of Defense, that the missile posed no threat to the United States or its territory in Guam, but said the U.S. military is committed to the defense of its allies, including South Korea and Japan.
“We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies from any attack or provocation and to use the full range of capabilities at our disposal against the threat from North Korea,” Mannin said.
Trump stated on Twitter on Sept. 17, “I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad!”
I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2017
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert stated in a Sept. 12 press briefing that while “China can do more” when it comes to North Korea, its shift in stance to back the resolutions of the Security Council is “significant.”
Nauert said that 90 percent of North Korea’s trade goes through China, but with the new sanctions, “China has repeatedly said that they do not believe in a nuclearized Korean Peninsula,” and with this in mind, China is “working with us, we are working with them, to try to get to that goal.”
Facing increasingly frequent threats from North Korea, the United States is also working closely with its allies in the region.
Defense Secretary James Mattis spoke with his counterpart in Japan, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, on Sept. 14, just following North Korea’s latest missile launch. During the call, according to the Department of Defense, Mattis “reassured” Onodera of “America’s unwavering commitment to the defense of Japan and the broader security of the region.”
Mattis and Onodera also agreed that North Korea’s threats call for a “strong demonstration of a unified front between the United States, Japan, and South Korea,” and they also “agreed on the importance of robust trilateral defense cooperation between the three nations.”
The United States, Japan, and South Korea have been holding joint military operations, which included a Sept. 17 operation in which military aircraft from all three nations flew over the Korean Peninsula in what U.S. Pacific Command referred to as a “sequenced show of force.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also been speaking with his foreign counterparts on the issue. He spoke with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Sept. 18, and, according to the State Department, the three ministers “affirmed and applauded” the sanctions on North Korea and “called for continuing international action” to curtail North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.