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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#570】Don’t Leave President Trump to Ease Sanctions on North Korea

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2019.02.04 (Mon)

February 4, 2019

     U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly plans to meet with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un in Vietnam in late February. While joking in his Twitter message that he had “fallen in love” with Kim, President Trump has toughened sanctions on North Korea. As the economic sanctions have grown effective, foreign currency reserves have begun to deplete in North Korea, with domestic discontent growing.
     While Chairman Kim has demanded a return for the explosion of a nuclear test facility and the repatriation of U.S. soldiers’ remains, the United States has made no response. Then, Kim has offered to dismantle long-range missiles and nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, calling for his second summit with Trump. Therefore, the biggest focus of attention regarding the second summit would be whether the U.S. would pledge to ease sanctions on North Korea.

Kim aiming to reopen Kaesong and Mt. Kumgang
     The international sanctions on North Korea since August 2017 include a ban on imports from North Korea. In 2016, North Korea earned $2.6 billion in foreign currency income by selling coal, clothing, iron ore, fishery products and other goods to China. Under the sanctions, however, the foreign currency income plunged to $1.6 billion in 2017 and to $0.2 billion in 2018, indicating that North Korea lost $3.4 billion in such income in the two years.
     As coal has been piled up at open-air mines, ration losses have forced coalminers to starve to death. Jangmadang black markets have been scaled down, leading orphans and aged people among the weak to die of hunger. Citizens reportedly complain that while the Korean Workers’ Party ask people to be self-sufficient, they could face a serious famine in which they would have to eat pine tree barks. Then, they would not die without doing anything. Funds at Chairman Kim’s hands have reportedly declined from $4-5 billion to less than $1 billion.
     In his New Year address, Chairman Kim indicated his ambition to reopen North-South joint projects for the Kaesong industrial region and Mt. Kumgang tourism. If the two projects are exempted from the sanctions, North Korea may gain massive foreign currency income from South Korea’s Moon Jae In regime.
     Yongbyong nuclear facilities include a nuclear reactor for plutonium production, a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant and a uranium enriching plant. However, the uranium enriching plant is a dummy for exhibition. Intelligence officials believe that North Korea have plural uranium enriching facilities that still produce enriched uranium even after the first U.S.-North Korea summit last June. They include a facility at the Chollima steel plant in a suburb of Pyongyang, a U.S. intelligence agency said in a manner to check North Korea.

Abductees' return to Japan may be delayed if sanctions are eased
     Even after Chairman Kim’s pledge to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, North Korea has continued nuclear development. His current offer is limited to the dismantlement of capabilities for nuclear attacks on the U.S..
     If President Trump correctly understands the abovementioned situation, he will surely request Chairman Kim at the coming summit to promptly clarify all nuclear weapon facilities including uranium enriching plants, and existing nuclear weapons and missiles. If Trump eases the sanctions without making such request, Chairman Kim may not respond to a Japan-North Korea summit for returning Japanese abductees to their country.
     Therefore, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should take leadership in persuading President Trump not to exempt the Kaesong industrial region and Mt. Kumgang tourism projects from the sanctions. The Abe diplomacy is put to the test.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a Visiting Professor at Reitaku University. He covers South and North Koreas.