US can’t rein in DPRK by using force
Washington would do much better to heed Beijing’s dual-suspension proposal and the dual-track approach
The international community kept a close eye on the Korean Peninsula situation as Republic of Korea President Moon Jae-in made a four-day state visit to China, especially because Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency termed the justconcluded US-ROK military drill a “projected war rehearsal” that will push the already acute situation on the peninsula to “the brink of nuclear war”.
Moon, who held talks with President Xi Jinping on Dec 14, told China Central Television in an interview before embarking on the visit that the goal of his visit was to normalize relations with China following the controversy over deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in the ROK.
Aside from bilateral relations, the two sides also discussed ways to resolve the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear issue. The use of terms such as “projected war rehearsal” and “the brink of nuclear war” by the DPRK’s news agency and the testing of a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile by Pyongyang on Nov 29, which it claimed could hit the United States mainland, have made the stakeholders in Northeast Asia more anxious.
Given that Pyongyang tested the ICBM despite the international community tightening economic sanctions after it conducted the sixth nuclear test in September, it seems that United Nations Resolution 2375 — which was expected to paralyze the country’s oil imports and textile and marine product exports — as well as the latest unilateral sanctions by Washington and Seoul are yet to make a difference to the DPRK.
While the economic sanctions are poised to reach their limit — China-DPRK trade fell to an eight-month low in October — Pyongyang has shown little sign of taking a step back. And the decision of the administration of US President Donald Trump to put the DPRK back on the list of “state sponsors” of terrorism risks stymieing the progress made toward denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
This dilemma highlights the lack of a sense of security in Pyongyang. DPRK leader Kim Jongun, instead of buckling under the pressure of escalating sanctions over the past six years, is investing more resources to alleviate the damage caused by international sanctions, by opening new factories and urging increased production.
There is little room left for further tightening of sanctions, international or unilateral, against the DPRK, because that would put the livelihoods of its people at risk and thus violate the basic principle of human rights. And since the unilateral sanctions imposed by Washington and Seoul on Pyongyang are intrinsically based on their respective domestic laws, the US has no legal grounds to allege that Chinese enterprises have “covert” links with Pyongyang.
Far from shutting down its nuclear facilities, the DPRK has time and again conducted nuclear and missile tests, and now claims its missiles can hit the US mainland. Besides, given the desperate state that the DPRK is now in, it could go from one extreme to another if it faces a preemptive attack by the US.
Let us hope UN Undersecretary General Jeffrey Feltman’s recent talks with DPRK officials will be able to break the deadlock and bring Pyongyang back to the negotiation table so that peace can be restored on the peninsula.
Moreover, while gathering information on another possible nuclear test by Pyongyang, and how far it has progressed in ICBM research, Washington would do better to heed Beijing’s dual-suspension proposal and the dual-track approach. Dual-suspension means the US and the ROK suspending their major military drills in return for the DPRK suspending its nuclear program, and dual-track means making concerted efforts to simultaneously move forward the process of denuclearization and establishment of a peaceful mechanism, with both aimed at easing tensions on the peninsula.