Play by the book

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Play by the book

The international community is moving fast to reinforce sanctions against North Korea for its fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9. The UN Security Council last Thursday issued an urgent statement to impose the toughest-ever sanctions in an emergency meeting immediately after the breaking news. China promptly issued a statement denouncing the test before summoning the North Korean ambassador in Pyongyang to protest it. Considering the tension between Seoul and Beijing over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, China’s turnaround is a promising sign.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen if the Security Council can come up with really effective sanctions this time because China has often shied away from enforcing sanctions on its neighbor. The international community is now discussing additional sanctions — such as a total ban on trading of coal, iron ore and steel as well as a ban on all petroleum exports to the North — to make it feel real pain. If China wants to punish the North, it must earnestly participate in the additional sanctions.

As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Despite Beijing’s vows to implement sanctions by the book, they mostly fizzled out — particularly after conflict arose over the Thaad deployment in South Korea. In reneging on the strict execution of sanctions, the United States is no exception. The Obama administration is even sneered at by the U.S. media for its disrespect for the “secondary boycott” it promised to impose on third-party financial institutions trading with North Korea. Under such circumstances, no one can expect a successful implementation of sanctions.

As seen in the nuclear deal between Washington and Teheran, economic pressure fails unless the international community presses it consistently — and for quite a long period. If the world wants to address the North Korean nuclear issue through sanctions, it must push the country into a very tight corner. Russia also is not free from accountability for failed sanctions. It must stop putting off the adoption of UN sanction resolutions because it could give the wrong signal to North Korea.

Decision makers in Beijing and Washington must not forget that South Korea can take extraordinary measures if the international community’s sanctions prove ineffective. After the North’s latest nuclear test, in which it probably succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear warheads, the argument for redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons and even nuclear armament of our own is gaining momentum.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 12, Page 30
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