A Diplomatic Opening?

The Washington Post‘s Colum Lynch is reporting that China has indicated that it is willing to consider an economic sanctions regime for North Korea that references Article 41, Chapter 7 of the UN charter. This is big news.During Security Council negotiations following North Korea’s missile launch in July, China steadfastly refused to consider sanctioning North Korea under Chapter 7. The Council did pass a resolution in July calling for targeted sanctions on North Korea’s weapons programs, but because the resolution did not fall under Chapter 7, it was largely unenforceable by the international community.

It now seems that China’s UN ambassador, Wang Guangya, is making good on his threat to take “punitive actions” against North Korea. This would mark a significant shift in China’s North Korea policy; the question now before China (and the rest of the Council) is over how wide-ranging these sanctions will be. How (not if) to sanction North Korea will be the topic of discussion at the Security Council.

Meanwhile, President Bush’s repeated assurances during Wednesday’s press conference that the United States has no plans to pursue the military option with North Korea may indicate that the United States is willing to forswear reference to other provisions of Chapter Seven (on the use of force) in Security Council negotiations. I suspect that with these two developments, the Security Council may be on the fast track to reaching an enforceable, punitive sanctions regime for North Korea.