SEOUL, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Are three-month-long international sanctions on North Korea effectively forcing the defiant country to finally give up its nuclear weapons program?
The answer seems unclear for now as China and South Korea, North Korea's main economic lifelines, have stayed away from major sanctions against their neighbor for fear of possible turmoil in the region.
With growing skepticism about the effectiveness of economic sanctions, North Korea has launched campaigns to endure outside pressure, saying it would focus national efforts on building a self-supporting economy.
Five days after North Korea exploded a nuclear device on Oct. 9, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1718, calling for all U.N. members to impose wide-ranging sanctions on the communist country, including a ban on exports of luxury goods.
The measure also bars the sale or transfer of missiles, warships, tanks, attack helicopters and combat aircraft, as well as missile- and nuclear-related goods, to the isolated country. The United States and Japan are leading the U.N.-backed drive against North Korea, imposing tougher sanctions, such as bans on trade and the entry of North Korean ships and people.
But only about one-fourth of U.N. member states have reported to a Security Council committee on their embargo measures taken against North Korea, largely on the back of mounting calls for more dialogue after the North has returned to the long-stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear programs.
The committee has asked member states to report measures they have taken with a view to effectively implementing the sanctions. The committee is obliged to make reports to the council on the matter at least every 90 days.
Of all 192 member states, however, 46 -- including Japan and the United States, as well as the European Union -- have reported their measures, delaying the sanctions process, according to South Korean officials. The committee presented its first report last week but with no major measures to implement the Security Council resolution.
Analysts here cited reluctance of China and South Korea as a main factor behind the sluggish sanctions process against North Korea.
China suspended its banking transactions with North Korea shortly after the U.N. endorsement of sanctions, but has resumed financial transactions with the communist neighbor since November, according to diplomatic sources.
China has also resumed crude oil shipments to the North after a one-month suspension. China exported more than 58,000 tons of crude oil to North Korea in October, up 67.7 percent from a year earlier, the figures from the General Administration of Customs showed. The increased shipment may be compensating for the September cutoff. China provided some 48,000 tons of crude in November, up 14.5 percent from a year earlier.
China's food exports to North Korea also remained largely unchanged. China, a staunch ally of Pyongyang, has provided as much as 90 percent of the North's oil and more than one-third of food imports, according to officials in Seoul.
In addition, China has sharply increased its shipments of luxury items since October, such as beef, cars, fur products and electronic goods, apparently to make up for reduction from other countries under the U.N.-backed sanctions.
Two-way trade between North Korea and China during the first eleven months last year increased 5.4 percent from a year earlier, posting $1.54 billion, Seoul's Unification Ministry said in its Wednesday report.
South Korea has suspended food aid to the North since the nuclear test, but is expected to resume food shipments in the near future as part of efforts to revive cross-border reconciliation. The North has broken off official contacts with the South since it suspended rice and fertilizer shipments following Pyongyang's missile tests in July.
Choi Soo-young, a researcher at Seoul's state-run think tank Korea Institute for National Unification, said U.S.-led sanctions would be ineffective given the virtual absence of the North's economic exchanges with the United States and Japan.
"China holds the key in the push against the North, but it has remained reluctant to squeezing a major lifeline to the North," he said.
Kim Suk, a professor of international finance at University of Detroit-Mercy, said U.N. sanctions against North Korea are doomed to fail without China's active role. "No economic sanctions would work without the help of China. But China is highly unlikely to crack down on North Korea any time soon because the last thing it needs is to suddenly have to deal with an influx of North Korean refugees," he said.
North Korea has already endured economic and diplomatic isolations for the past decade, indicating it is unlikely to bow to fresh outside pressure.
At the turn of the year, the North rekindled its campaigns to arm the country with "the revolutionary spirit of juche (self-reliance)." In its New Year message, the North called on its people to "run the economy by their own efforts, their own technology and their own resources with a determination that they must build a socialist paradise by themselves under the spirit of juche."