The US is ratcheting up its sanctions on North Korea in line with its commitment to “maximum pressure” aimed to stop the rogue regime’s nuclear and missile menace. More countries should join the efforts as excluding a military action, economic pressure would be the only solution for now.
New sanctions meted out by the US government Tuesday targeted one Chinese individual, 13 entities in China and North Korea, and 20 vessels owned by North Korean shipping companies.
That the new list included a Chinese individual -- the CEO of a company in a city near North Korea -- and four Chinese companies show that the action also seeks to press China, the North’s sole remaining ally and the largest benefactor, as well.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made it clear that the latest action is part of Washington’s “steadfast determination to maximize economic pressure” to isolate North Korea from outside sources of trade and revenue while exposing its evasive tactics, like ship-to-ship transfers.
The latest sanctions, the sixth of their kind since President Donald Trump took office early this year, marked the first time that the US government blacklisted North Korean vessels. That would close one of the widest loopholes in the efforts to isolate the regime.
The announcement of the new sanctions came one day after the US government relisted North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, with President Donald Trump calling it a “murderous regime.”
Such a decision had been largely expected in view of the recent case of Otto Wambier, an American college student who died after 17 months of detention in North Korea, and the apparent assassination of a half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a Malaysian airport in February this year.
As Trump said, the decision reaffirms the US government’s commitment to imposing maximum pressure on the Pyongyang government.
The US government is also doing well to encourage other countries to join in. A State Department spokesperson said that as of about a month and a half ago, about 20 countries -- separately from the UN sanctions -- participated in the maximum pressure campaign at the request of the US government. The spokesperson noted that their actions included expulsion of North Korean workers and diplomats.
So far, five countries -- Mexico, Peru, Kuwait, Spain and Italy -- have kicked out North Korean ambassadors. Portugal said it would sever all ties with North Korea and Sudan recently became the first African country to cut trade with North Korea.
These and other sanctions will surely give North Korea a hard time. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during his recent trip to Asia that the US and China were seeing “clear signs” that sanctions are creating “some stress” for North Korea‘s economy, citizens and even military. This week, he mentioned long lines being formed at gas stations in the impoverished country.
But North Korea is unlikely to give in to the sanctions and come back to the negotiation table anytime soon. The recent visit of a special Chinese envoy to North Korea should give a clue to the North’s position.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un -- apparently intentionally -- ignored Song Tao, who made a four-day trip to Pyongyang as an envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping. It is very unusual for a North Korean leader to shun a top envoy from China.
That could be a message that Kim was displeased with what China has been doing over the crisis -- including Beijing’s participation in the UN sanctions -- and that he would remain as defiant as ever against the international pressure and even China’s advice.
Few expect that the Kim regime will easily give in to outside pressure. But for now, putting up pressure to an unprecedented level -- Trump indicated that the level would be the highest in two weeks -- while leaving the door to dialogue open is the sole viable means to take on the Kim regime.