Posted November. 22, 2017 09:10,
Updated November. 22, 2017 09:17
U.S. President Donald Trump designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism on Monday for the first time in nine years since October 2008. Citing the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam and the death of American citizen Otto Warmbier, Trump decried Pyongyang as a “murderous regime.” He has also said the government will be announcing a “very large additional sanction” and increase its intensity over the next two weeks so that “sanctions would be at their highest level ever” by then.
The re-designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism came right after Song Tao, special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping, went home empty-handed after a four-day visit to the North. China’s state-run media reported that Song had met and talked with members of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) leadership, but was mum on whether Song met with Kim Jong Un. This points to a high possibility that either the special envoy did not sit with the North’s leader or even if the meeting took place, the result was just fruitless. Song must have urged the North to return to a negotiating table, explaining the pressure China receives to faithfully implement UN Security Council resolutions, only to take nothing from its traditional ally.
President Trump seemed to have held high expectations for China’s sending of a special envoy to North Korea. He apparently postponed the announcement of Pyongyang’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, which was originally expected to be made right after his Asia trip, and said “China is sending an Envoy and Delegation to North Korea – A big move, we’ll see what happens!” on Twitter. Now that the much-anticipated visit of Song ends without results, Trump went on to label Pyongyang as a state sponsor of terrorism. With North Korea turning its back even on China, it seems clear that the U.S. administration will impose sanctions and pressure on the North at the highest level to nearly blockade the regime.
In fact, Pyongyang’s re-designation as a state sponsor of terrorism will hardly have a material effect on the regime because it is already a closed country under highly intense international sanctions, namely a series of UN Security Council resolutions. Yet, it still has a symbolic meaning in that the country is to be officially labeled as a rogue regime that supports terrorism. The United States first listed North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism referring to the bombing of KAL 858 in 1987 as a terrorist act. It was 20 years after the North had its name removed from the list, after it destroyed the cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear complex and agreed on the monitoring and verification activities of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Now on the list again, it would be anything but easy for North Korea to get off the list once more. Along with Beijing, Washington is highly likely to place the “highest pressure” on Pyongyang, and Beijing will also find it difficult to continue to shield its old ally. China may be overly pressured to an extent that it should bring itself to choose the closure of oil pipelines to North Korea. As the United States still holds a door for dialogue open, saying diplomatic solutions are valid, Kim Jong Un should make a wise decision to prevent self-destruction. North Korea’s additional provocations will only escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Meanwhile, the South Korean government should also be prepared for any possible states of emergency and maintain a firm readiness posture.