North Korea is trying to open a hole in the international net encircling the country by stoking a reconciliatory mood through dialogue with South Korea over its participation in the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Given this, the confirmation of the international community’s continuing pressure on Pyongyang seems well-timed.
A foreign ministerial meeting of 20 countries, including those that contributed troops to the U.N. forces in the Korean War, as well as Japan, South Korea and others, was held in Vancouver, Canada.
The United States and Canada, cohost countries, emphasized in their chairpersons’ statement that they agreed to strengthen sanctions and continue to apply pressure on Pyongyang, so as to bring North Korea to negotiations on its denuclearization.
Significant was the warning by Foreign Minister Taro Kono that the international community should not avert its eyes from North Korea’s continuing pursuit of its nuclear and missile programs and that North Korea is trying to drive a wedge in the international community.
Behind Kono’s warning is North Korea’s current dialogue offensive aimed at South Korea. Pyongyang has secured an occasion for it to propagandize its regime by having South Korea approve a North Korean art troupe performing in Seoul. North Korea has also demanded the cancellation of U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, and, without doubt, the Pyongyang regime will attempt to break the net encircling it.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha said it is hoped that progress in inter-Korean dialogue will lead to a peaceful solution of the North Korean nuclear issue. Yet Seoul’s overtures to hold talks on the nuclear issue have been rejected by Pyongyang. It seems that South Korea, which aims to use the Olympic Games politically, has been taken advantage of by Pyongyang, thus giving the North the upper hand.
Get China, Russia involved
Neither China nor Russia participated in the meeting. The statement recognized the special responsibility of China and Russia in contributing to a permanent solution on the Korean Peninsula, thus urging the two countries to strictly implement sanctions.
It has been found that North Korea has been “skirting the sanctions” by obtaining materials subject to the sanctions, such as refined petroleum products, through ship-to-ship transfers of goods at sea. There have been many such cases, with the involvement of Chinese companies being pointed out.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for reinforcing the interdiction of ships conducting illicit trade with North Korea at sea. The United States has embarked on an international crackdown utilizing the framework of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Naval vessels of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force have also begun surveillance activities against smuggling vessels.
The U.S. forces have deployed strategic bombers in Guam, intensifying military deterrence. It is a matter of urgency to get both China and Russia involved with such efforts, thus enhancing the effectiveness of the sanctions.
In Vancouver, a foreign ministerial meeting of Japan and South Korea was also held. It was reasonable that Kono asserted that it is “totally unacceptable [for South Korea] to call on Japan to take further measures” over the issue of comfort women. He also called on South Korea to implement the Japan-South Korea agreement on the issue inked in 2015.
Kang explained the policy of the administration led by South Korean President Moon Jae In that “the accord cannot be a solution to resolve the issue.”
The accord has confirmed that the issue “has been settled finally and irreversibly.” Activity by the South Korean government to try to undermine the accord would only deteriorate Japan-South Korean relations.