SEOUL - In light of North Korea's latest nuclear test, its sixth and most powerful, the US is pushing for new international sanctions against the rogue state. The latest punishments, which include measures such as cutting off North Korea's oil supply, would be the toughest yet. Here is a breakdown of what may lie ahead.
What is being proposed for the new round of sanctions? If a new sanctions resolution is approved by the United Nations Security Council, it will be the ninth such package of penalties levied on North Korea since 2006. The biggest move this time concerns cutting off the North's oil imports.
China is said to pipe about 500,000 tons of crude oil to the country every year, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged that his country also ships oil to the North. This is refined, mainly to provide fuel for cars, ships and aircraft.
The draft UN resolution is also seeking to ban apparel exports from North Korea, as well as restricting countries from hiring North Korean workers, who send hard currency back to the isolated country. In an Aug. 5 resolution, the Security Council banned member countries from increasing the number of North Korean laborers working inside their borders. The US now hopes to go a step further by requiring U.N. members to send those workers home.
Other measures include a travel ban on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a freeze on the assets of four other senior officials, along with the government and the ruling Worker's Party of North Korea.
The US is also looking to allow the inspection of designated North Korean cargo ships in open waters, as well as to stop illicit coal exports from the North Korean port of Rajin, in which Russia is said to be involved.
Will the sanctions work?
Cutting off North Korea's oil supply would affect its military, first and foremost. The country is already said to face such a severe fuel shortage that it cannot conduct exercises using jets. The military is said to possess a roughly one-year reserve, but a protracted embargo could put a significant dent in the stockpile. Although Yang Moon-soo, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, argues that because North Korean industry relies heavily on coal, restricting the supply of oil will not greatly affect factory output, civilian factories could be affected as well, down the road.
"In case the UN Security Council does agree to impose a complete ban on exports of oil and gas to North Korea, this will impose significant pressure on North Korea to return to the six-party talks as its oil reserves run out," said Rajiv Biswas, APAC chief economist at IHS Markit.
However, Biswas also noted that North Korea could turn to coal-to-oil technology to convert its substantial reserves of anthracite into oil, the same technology used by the Germans during World War II and South Africa when it faced international sanctions during the apartheid era.