The U.S State Department warned Sunday that the more North Korea notices the impact of sanctions, the more it will depend on state-led crimes, such as cyber operations to raise funds for the development of weapons of mass destructions. Earlier on Thursday, the U.S. Treasury and Justice Departments indicted North Korean hacker Park Jin Hyok for his involvement in a host of cyberattacks, including hacking into the Central Bank of Bangladesh in 2016 and the "WannaCry" ransomware attack that affected 230,000 computers around the world in 2017, and added him to its sanctions list. The move is to prevent North Korea from making financial resources by launching cyber operations and avoiding international sanctions at a time when the United States is directing all its energy toward denuclearization.
The U.S. State Department also strongly warned against illegal ship-to-ship transfers by saying those who violate against the U.N. Security Council Resolutions will pay the price. Australia and New Zealand dispatched three maritime patrol aircrafts to Japan to keep watch on illegal ship-to-ship transfers, a proof that international cooperation to sanction North Korea is stronger than ever.
Expectations are high that the deadlock with North Korea would break with the upcoming inter-Korean summit, U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo’s possible visit to North Korea, and a letter sent from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to U.S. President Donald Trump. But the strong warning issued by the United States appears to be an expression of its determination that it will never ease the pressure against North Korea unless the North moves toward denuclearization. U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun visited South Korea Monday and reportedly stressed the importance of South Korea-U.S. cooperation under the special circumstance where they have to combine conversation and sanctions to deal with North Korea. In particular, the South Korean government should leverage the accumulated know-how and intelligence gathered from the Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDos) attack in 2009 and cyberattack on Nonghyup Bank computer network in 2011 to respond to North Korea’s cyber operations.
The advancement of South-North Korea relations is unstable if it is made without U.S.-South Korea cooperation. Nevertheless, the South Korean government has decided to open an inter-Korean liaison office within the week and officially invited five delegates of the ruling and opposition parties to the upcoming inter-Korean summit. The planned bipartisan visit to the North is unlikely as Kim Byung-joon of the Liberty Korea Party and Son Hak-kyu of the Righteous Future Party declined the invitation. The government appeared to be in a rush to make the inter-Korean summit a great reconciliation event between the two Koreas. But it should keep in mind that we are now at a critical juncture in the path toward denuclearization where we have to carefully use both conversation and pressure to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.