August 07, 2017 12:31
The UN Security Council on Saturday unanimously agreed on a tougher set of sanctions against North Korea that include the complete ban on exports of coal, iron ore and seafood. But crude oil supplies from Russia and China were once again left out of the resolution, and North Korea can keep collecting hard currency from slave laborers it has already sent abroad.
South Korea and the U.S. believe the latest sanctions will slash North Korea's exports by around US$1 billion or one-third of the annual total. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley lauded them as "the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation."
But while they may pinch, nobody believes that they will be enough to stop Kim Jong-un from continuing to develop nuclear weapons and missiles. South Korea and the U.S. praised the UN Security Council resolutions adopted shortly after North Korea's fourth and fifth nuclear tests last year as the ultimate penalties, but Pyongyang barely flinched and developed an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
The North has been undeterred because China and Russia, which do not want their buffer state to collapse, have excluded shipments of oil for the "livelihood" of North Koreans from the sanctions. The same thing is true this time.
The U.S. does not want to clash with China, no matter how big U.S. President Donald Trump talks, and Beijing knows this very well. As long as this situation continues, the North Korean nuclear standoff will continue. Either the U.S. or China will eventually end up seeking the easy way out and opt for a settlement. If that means acknowledging North Korea as a nuclear-armed state, it could be catastrophic for South Korea. Seoul would end up being dragged around helplessly by Pyongyang.
The North Korean nuclear and missile threats are not just South Korea's problem but the international community's. But it has become increasingly clear that the international community is incapable of solving it. Seoul and Washington agreed at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila on Sunday to start early negotiations on revising bilateral missile guidelines that restrict the range and payload of South Korean missiles. That is a necessary move, but not enough to deal with the looming threat.
South Korea needs to prepare for the worst-case scenario. President Moon Jae-in will soon at long last speak over the telephone with U.S. President Donald Trump. The two leaders must have a frank discussion about the U.S.' limited ability to deal with the threat and ways for South Korea to defend itself.
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