Responding To: In Search of Resolution on North Korea
Economic Sanctions are Necessary but not Sufficient
With North Korea’s recent nuclear test, there are rising tensions between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump. In the past, there has been the precondition that Pyongyang must unilaterally cease its nuclear testing for some unspecified period of time, which currently stands little chance of success. However, President Trump has said that “all options are on the table.” In addition to President Trump signaling that the United States could cease trade with countries that engage in business with North Korea, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stated that the United States would not accept a nuclear North Korea. Both statements escalated the bilateral tensions. These statements also caught the attention of the international community. China, North Korea’s biggest trade partner, became concerned not only with the possibility of a conflict in its neighborhood, but that its businesses will also suffer.
From September 28 to October 4, the U.S.-China Initiative fellows met in Washington, D.C. and had the opportunity to discuss the North Korean issue with scholars and senior officials from China and the United States. There were varying opinions on how to solve this matter, from “all options are on the table” to a variation of the “freeze for freeze.” The freeze for freeze was proposed by the Chinese government, in which North Korea stops its nuclear program in exchange for the United States ceasing military exercises in South Korea. “All options are on the table” means what you might think of at first glance: more economic sanctions and if necessary, war.
One important takeaway emerged for me during this meeting: Economic sanctions should be paired with diplomatic strategies that will halt rising tensions and hopefully end this crisis.
Many strategies have emerged to alleviate this situation, including the toughening of sanctions, with recent actions taken by China against the North Korean trade in oil, textiles, and banking exemplifying this. Economic sanctions on North Korea were adopted in 2006 and 2009 when the U.N. Security Council passed resolutions 1718 and 1874. These multilateral sanctions included placing restrictions on sales of weapons systems and luxury goods.
Opinions are mixed, but there seems to be a consensus that sanctions have had a limited damaging effect on the North Korean economy as a whole. In order to make sanctions more effective, it requires greater limitations to be enforced on North Korea from China, as well as ensuring that various aid programs are contingent upon good behavior. Now that China has joined the United States’ position on responding to the crisis with a “strong and united” strategy, the sanctions will have a greater chance of success. Therefore, we should welcome continued economic pressure from all of North Korea’s neighbors and trading partners.
At the same time, additional measures should be employed to encourage a change in Pyongyang’s policy regarding nuclear weapons. This is in part due to China’s reluctance to cause irreparable harm to the Kim regime. During our visit to the Chinese Embassy, Ambassador Cui Tiankai commented, “China will not encourage the full shutdown of the economy of North Korea.” This is a sentiment that Moscow and Seoul will agree with, as the aim is limited to nuclear disarmament. “Kim is a tyrant, but I don't believe he is crazy or suicidal. I believe he is deterrable,” said Dr. Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford University Professor. Face-saving measures should be made available to the Kim regime so as to enhance the ability for sanctions to have success.
Yamillet Payano is a senior at American University majoring in economics and mathematics with a minor in Chinese.
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