North Korea’s wake-up call

A united al­liance with Chi­nese help will di­min­ish the regime’s mis­be­hav­ior

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Joseph R. DeTrani Joseph R. DeTrani was the former spe­cial en­voy for ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea. The views are the au­thor’s and not any govern­ment depart­ment or agency.

The hor­rific death of Otto Warm­bier should be a wakeup call to the United States and China that we are fail­ing ter­ri­bly with North Korea. Kim Jong-un ap­pears in­dif­fer­ent to the death of this young Amer­i­can held hostage in Py­ongyang and with the con­tin­ued de­ten­tion of three Amer­i­cans. The in­ter­na­tional out­cry with North Korea’s 12 mis­sile launches in 2017 hasn’t de­terred the North Korean leader from overt prepa­ra­tions for a sixth nu­clear test and the im­mi­nent launch an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile (ICBM) ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the whole of the U.S. The brazen as­sas­si­na­tion of his brother, Kim Jong-nam, in Malaysia us­ing VX nerve agent and the dis­sem­i­na­tion of YouTube videos sim­u­lat­ing nu­clear at­tacks on Tokyo and Wash­ing­ton are other man­i­fes­ta­tions of a con­fi­dent and in­sen­si­tive Mr. Kim.

We are at an in­flec­tion point with North Korea, where things can fur­ther de­te­ri­o­rate quickly or sta­bi­lize, with the prospect that the sit­u­a­tion can im­prove. Frankly, any im­prove­ment seems un­likely. North Korea ap­pears con­fi­dent that its play­book for deal­ing with the U.S. and China is work­ing. It’s un­likely we’ll get North Korea to agree to any form of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion in re­turn for a more nor­mal re­la­tion­ship with the U.S., South Korea and Ja­pan. What may be pos­si­ble is to get North Korea to re­al­ize that its strat­egy for deal­ing with the U.S. and China will fail; that North Korea will never be rec­og­nized as a nu­clear weapons state; and that fur­ther pur­suit of nu­clear weapons and mis­sile de­liv­ery sys­tems will fur­ther sanc­tion and iso­late North Korea, en­sur­ing that its lead­ers are de­nied ac­cess to re­sources nec­es­sary to sus­tain their nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams and their lav­ish life­styles, in­dif­fer­ent to the needs of the peo­ple.

Key to any po­ten­tial suc­cess with North Korea is en­sur­ing that the U.S., China, South Korea and Ja­pan are united in their goal of com­pre­hen­sive and ver­i­fi­able de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula. North Korea’s re­cent ex­treme provoca­tive be­hav­ior re­quires an equally com­pelling re­sponse. For the U.S., joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with South Korea should con­tinue and be en­hanced. Ad­di­tional tri­lat­eral U.S., South Korea and Ja­pan in­tel­li­gence and mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion should be pur­sued, with plans for the in­tro­duc­tion of ad­di­tional mis­sile de­fense sys­tems in the re­gion.

The visit of South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in to the U.S. and his meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Trump should fo­cus on these im­por­tant col­lab­o­ra­tive steps. Im­me­di­ately, the U.S. should im­pose sec­ondary sanc­tions on any third-coun­try en­tity — busi­nesses or banks — that do il­licit busi­ness with North Korea, in vi­o­la­tion of U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions. Since a num­ber of these busi­nesses and banks are in China, and given Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s agree­ment with Mr. Trump to work more closely on re­solv­ing is­sues with North Korea, these sec­ondary sanc­tions should not ad­versely af­fect bi­lat­eral re­la­tions with China. Rather, they should fa­cil­i­tate the work of the au­thor­i­ties in China to take ac­tion against those Chi­nese busi­nesses and banks that con­tinue to do il­licit busi­ness with North Korea.

The new Moon govern­ment in South Korea also has an op­por­tu­nity to con­vey to Py­ongyang that in­tim­i­da­tion and threats will not suc­ceed. Ac­cord­ingly, agree­ment to de­ploy the four ad­di­tional THAAD launch­ers should be ap­proved soon­est, ide­ally dur­ing or im­me­di­ately af­ter Mr. Moon’s meet­ings with Mr. Trump. South Korea’s de­ci­sion to re­open the Kaesong In­dus­trial Park should, at a min­i­mum, be con­di­tioned on North Korea halt­ing any ad­di­tional nu­clear tests and mis­sile launches. Be­ing too anx­ious to ac­com­mo­date a bel­liger­ent Kim Jong-un could be in­ter­preted by the North as weak­ness.

China has been clear in stat­ing that com­pre­hen­sive and ver­i­fi­able de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula is also its ob­jec­tive. The re­cent agree­ment be­tween Pres­i­dents Trump and Xi to col­lab­o­rate on ac­tions to­ward North Korea should be in­cen­tive enough for China, in ad­di­tion to its mora­to­rium on coal im­ports from North Korea in 2017, and to grad­u­ally re­duce the amount of crude oil China pro­vides to North Korea. Es­ti­mates are that China pro­vides close to 90 per­cent of North Korea’s an­nual crude oil re­quire­ments. Any diminu­tion of this amount would im­pact North Korea’s econ­omy and get Mr. Kim’s at­ten­tion. One would hope that China can ef­fec­tively use its lever­age with North Korea to at least con­vince Mr. Kim that an im­me­di­ate, un­con­di­tional halt to nu­clear tests and mis­sile launches is in Py­ongyang’s in­ter­est.

In the fi­nal anal­y­sis, it’s Kim Jong-un who can de-es­ca­late ten­sion quickly, es­pe­cially af­ter the hor­rific death of Otto Warm­bier. De­spite re­cent protes­ta­tions from Py­ongyang that Warm­bier was treated hu­manely, an of­fi­cial state­ment from Py­ongyang apol­o­giz­ing for his de­ten­tion and death would help, as would the im­me­di­ate re­lease of the three Amer­i­cans — Kim Sang-duk, Kim Hak-song and Kim Dongchul — im­pris­oned in North Korea. In­deed, a will­ing­ness of North Korea to halt all nu­clear tests, mis­sile launches and the pro­duc­tion of fis­sile ma­te­rial and the re­turn to un­con­di­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions would help sta­bi­lize con­di­tions in the re­gion, with the re­mote prospect that even­tu­ally North Korea would once again agree to com­pre­hen­sive and ver­i­fi­able de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, in re­turn for se­cu­rity as­sur­ances, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance, civil­ian light wa­ter re­ac­tors and a more nor­mal re­la­tion­ship with South Korea, Ja­pan and the U.S. The prospect of this hap­pen­ing is re­mote, but with the U.S., South Korea and Ja­pan united as al­lies, and with greater as­sis­tance from China, there could be a break­through.

Im­me­di­ately, how­ever, the U.S. needs to move for­ward, es­pe­cially with sec­ondary sanc­tions, greater re­gional mis­sile de­fense and en­hanced tri­lat­eral mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the U.S., South Korea and Ja­pan. Fail­ure to do so could fur­ther em­bolden Kim Jong-un and re­sult in ac­tions from North Korea that could es­ca­late into con­flict on the Korean Penin­sula.


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