Sanctions are going to hurtThe United States announced a new package of financial sanctions against North Korea as punishment for its role in the sinking of a South Korean naval corvette four months ago. The measures are in sync with South Korea’s halting of economic aid to and ties with the North following the United Nations Security Council’s condemnation, which fell short of directly blaming the communist state or imposing new sanctions for the attack. We must watch how this unexpected hard-line stance by Washington plays out and hope it pushes North Korea in a positive direction.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the sanctions were aimed at “destabilizing illicit and provocative policies pursued by the Pyongyang government.” Once they are put into action, they will likely serve a heavy blow to a leadership heavily dependent on illegal trading to raise hard currency to run its regime and weapons program, especially since aid and trade are virtually non-existent under UN and South Korean sanctions. The new U.S. sanctions will try to block money laundering and other financial dealings by the elite in North Korea.
Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley added that Washington will put North Korean institutions and individuals involved in weapons proliferation and other illicit activities on a blacklist for sanctions. The sanctions will freeze financial accounts of companies trading in counterfeit cigarettes, banknotes and drugs, which generate hard currency for the cash-strapped regime. North Korean officials will also be barred from traveling overseas, and diplomats won’t be able to use diplomatic privilege to conceal illicit activities.
The U.S. may have wanted to go beyond the weasel-worded Security Council statement and make North Korea pay a price for the attack. Frustrated by years of little progress from dialogue and diplomacy, it may have decided to wield a tougher stick to whip North Korea into shutting its nuclear program and to end its hostile ways.
Whatever the motive, the sanctions will inevitably suffocate the isolated communist regime. Their impact will be extensive and immediate, given the interwoven nature of the international financial community. North Korea wailed when the U.S. froze $25 million in North Korean deposit in a Macau bank in 2005. The pain will be greater this time.
North Korea must realize the severe risks it has brought upon itself and quickly move to change. The regional geopolitical situation has become unprecedentedly grave because of active roles played by the U.S. and China. Our government should also be ready for all possible scenarios.