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What Pyongyang should do

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By Tong Kim

North Korea no longer needs to do something provocative to get attention. It is constantly being watched because of its nuclear and missile development programs, which are discussed in capitals in Asia, the United States, and Europe. Rex Tillerson, nominee for secretary of state, expressed the conventional hardline view of the DPRK at his Senate confirmation hearing last Tuesday.

Pointing to North Korea as "a grave threat to the world because of its refusal to conform to international norms," and denounced China's "empty promises" to comply with U.N. sanctions. Tillerson said, "If China is not going to comply with sanctions, it is appropriate for us to pressure them to comply."

The nominee's approach to ending the North Korean nuclear issue will be "a long term plan" by "closing gaps" in sanction implementation and "visiting other areas and ways of closing off access of North Korea to materials that enable them to develop the capability and the delivery system." Tillerson also said he would consider secondary sanctions on Chinese companies trading with the North if found violating existing sanctions.

The next would-be secretary of state did not specify how and what new pressure he would impose on China to control Pyongyang's weapons programs. At the first press conference since his election in November, Donald Trump did not discuss the DPRK at all. The transition team does not seem to have any policy specifics.

At this point, it is still not clear what kind of an overall North Korea policy would be in place for the new administration to be sworn in on Friday. It is likely that Trump' security team, once settled at the White House, and the relevant departments including state, defense, and treasury, would take an overall review of North Korea policy, while maintaining or even tightening the existing sanction regime. George W. Bush's initial team took 6 months to complete this process in 2001.

The Trump administration would have to choose one of the three options: (1) application of pressure through sanctions and deterrence by enhancing and deploying more capable war assets, including a THAAD battery, in and around South Korea, (2) taking military action _ either preventive or preemptive _ which is considered too dangerous in view of the likelihood of starting war and incurring unbearable damage to lives and properties, and (3) engagement and negotiation _ which does not guarantee success given its past failures.

The hardliners in Washington and Seoul do not support the option of engagement. They prefer to see continuation of increasing pressure on the North Korean regime to a point of capitulation and denuclearization, if not collapse. Sanctions and military pressure have not succeeded to change the North. There is no dispute that sanctions would take time to be effective.

Relying on China has not worked so far and it will not work even with new pressure from the United States, unless China compromises on its own core interests in Korea and in the South China Sea. If Rex Tillerson's position on China, as expressed at his Senate hearing, were to be fully carried out, it would........

© The Korea Times