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(News Focus) NK sanctions well-enforced, global alliance still critical for success: analysts

All Headlines 09:10 August 31, 2016

By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, Aug. 31 (Yonhap) -- The latest sanctions that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) imposed on North Korea in March have been well-enforced in that they have made it harder for Pyongyang to acquire hard currency, which has put more pressure on the regime bent on missile and nuclear development, analysts said Wednesday.

They still cautioned that the real impact can only be determined in the longer term and that what is critical in making the sanctions a success will be the maintenance of a strong global alliance with China and other key international players.

On March 2, the UNSC adopted Resolution 2270 against the North to punish the country for carrying out its fourth nuclear test in January, followed by a long-range ballistic missile launch in February. The sanctions were regarded as the toughest that the Security Council has ever adopted in connection with Pyongyang's nuclear and missile provocations.

This marked the fifth UNSC resolution imposing sanctions slapped on the North over the years.

Under the latest move, the UNSC required mandatory inspection of all cargo going in and out of the North, while banning its exports of coal, iron and other mineral resources, a key source of hard currency that accounts for nearly half of the country's total exports.

Many member countries also joined the punitive action by drawing up their own sets of sanctions. Its closest ally, China, was among them, coming up with ways to curb Pyongyang's defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"It is true that the latest sanctions on the North are the harshest ever, and it seems that they have been carried out better than before," said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies.

"The sanctions individually enforced by countries, including the U.S., have also played a supplementary role in covering what might be some weaknesses in the resolutions," he added.

Experts say that the UNSC-led sanctions have been effective in tightening the screws on foreign currency inflows into the North Korean regime, and the latest high-profile defections, including a senior diplomat, might be prime examples that demonstrate how painful they have been for its leadership.

In mid-August, Thae Yong-ho, a minister at the North Korean Embassy in London, defected to South Korea with his family, making him one of the highest-ranking North Korean officials to flee to the South.

Thae's defection came after a group of North Korean restaurant workers working in China defected to the South in April. Restaurant staff are picked from socially well-off backgrounds, so their defection can be seen as a sign of how hard-pressed they were to remit money to North Korea.

"For the past six months, tough and comprehensive sanctions have been enforced with a global consensus," said Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK Economic Research Institute. "It seems that the recent defections by those making up the upper crust of North Korea are being triggered by sanctions."

"It is hard to provide exact figures, but our analysis is that foreign currency inflows into the North have dropped about 30 percent compared with the same period a year earlier," he added.

Despite the ever-increasing pinch squeezed by the global sanctions, the North has just doubled down on its provocative drive. During the six-month period following the March UNSC resolution, the North test-fired 18 missiles, more than half of all missiles launched since its leader Kim Jong-un took office in late 2011.

Upping the ante, the North test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile last week, which traveled about 500 kilometers into the East Sea, the longest distance flown by the SLBM launched by Pyongyang. This drew condemnation from South Korea, Japan and the U.S., with the UNSC later adopting a press statement against it.

No matter how painful the sanctions might be, observers worry that the North is sure to seek provocations including a possible fifth nuclear test.

Making things even worse, concerns remain high over a possible crack in the united front between South Korea and China against the North amid their diplomatic feud over Seoul's recent decision to deploy an advanced missile defense system on its soil, despite Beijing's strong opposition.

China is claiming that the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) undermines its strategic security interests with its powerful radar that could cover its territory. Seoul and Washington are saying that it is only for self-defense and aimed at nowhere else than missiles from the North.

The discord translated into the UNSC failing to adopt a press statement condemning the North's missile launches in early August in the face of Beijing's unilateral push to reflect its opposition to the THAAD battery in its wording. That episode raised alarm bells that Beijing might not be as active in joining the global effort to punish the North down the line.

Experts agreed that a global coalition is important in keeping the sanctions in place and, among other things, a united front with China is "critical" in curbing the North's nuclear and missile pursuits.

Some, however, noted that sanctions are not enough to resolve the current stalemate, calling for efforts to create an "environment" where the North can come out for talks.

"Unity in the international community is very important and efforts are needed to induce China to come along," said Kim Sung-han, a professor at Korea University. "(In that sense) South Korea should highlight the point that it doesn't need THAAD if there is a conclusive breakthrough in the North Korea nuclear issue."

"To achieve the intended outcome of the sanctions, however, they should come with negotiations. Efforts should be made simultaneously behind the scenes to create an environment where the North could come out for negotiations at a certain period," he said.


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