China recently voted to approve the new round of sanctions that were leveled against North Korea for their pursuit of both nuclear and ICB programs, a blatant violation of UN resolutions. Their vote was crucial since China wields veto power with regard to their permanent status on the UN Security Council.

In the past China would have vetoed these sanction measures and allowed North Korea to continue their nuclear and ICBM ambitions undeterred. However, they decided to vote along with the rest of the UN Security Council and approved the latest round of sanctions. This was a surprising move to many observers since this round of sanctions targeted much of what China exports to North Korea; energy. These sanctions mostly targeted gasoline, jet fuel, diesel or fuel oil, and any other petroleum exports headed towards North Korea, which will adversely affect China’s export values.

In November, the General Administration of Customs reported that China did not export any oil products into North Korea, a report that some used to claim China was honoring the latest round of sanctions. This would be the second consecutive month China did not export petroleum to North Korea after a similar report reflected the same for September. This prompted North Korean expert at Fudan University in Shanghai to make the following statement:

“This is a natural outcome of the tightening of the various sanctions against North Korea.”

Jian also claimed this abstention from exporting petroleum to North Korea in the months of September and November “reflects China’s stance.” But does it?

Jian made these statement prior to a news report that alleged United States spy satellites caught Chinese cargo ships selling oil products to North Korean cargo ships. If true, this move completely undercuts those whom were under the impression that China would follow the sanctions outright.

It seems that China is under an immense amount of international pressure to assist in the efforts to deter North Korea from becoming a nuclear power with reliable delivery systems. At the same time North Korea remains China’s ally and serves as a valuable distraction from their own nefarious ambitions. As a result, China has decided to instruct their delegates to vote along with the international community at the UN while insuring business-as-usual at the North Korean border and in the South China Sea.

China seems eager in maintaining their distraction to the south while signaling to the international community that they do not condone a nuclear capable North Korea. Of course, China is playing both sides however, there is a silver lining here.

The relationship President Trump has built with Chinese President Jinping has certainly served the international community well and seems to have upstaged the relationship China has with North Korea, at least for now. China would traditionally veto every round of UN sanctions that would target their neighbor to the south, North Korea. Prior to President Donald Trump, China would stand-up for and appease North Korea at the UN while placating the world behind closed doors. Those roles seemed to have changed as of late. China has been giving the impression of appeasing the international community at the UN while placating North Korea at home.

Should there be further violations of the UN sanctions on behalf of China, they need to be made public for the world to see and diplomatic measures must be pursued. A unilateral approach on behalf of the United States could also open the doors to further Chinese cooperation should trade issues be tied into the effort. President Trump has made it a campaign staple to address the trade deficit the United States has with China and could prove to be a powerful tool when negotiating with regard to North Korea.