The US House of Representatives approved legislation Thursday to impose the toughest ever US sanctions on North Korea.
The bill penalizes companies supplying crude oil, natural gas, jet fuel and other refined products to the North, with limited humanitarian exceptions. It also imposes financial sanctions on entities buying coal, iron or iron ore from the reclusive state.
Goods produced by North Korea’s forced labor would be prohibited from entering the US. Anyone who uses slave labor that the North exports would be subject to sanctions.
The bill requires the Trump government to determine within 90 days whether North Korea is a state sponsor of terrorism. Such a designation would trigger more sanctions.
The measure is aimed at cutting off North Korea’s access to the cash and energy it needs to follow through its plans to build a nuclear missile capable of striking the US.
The North has test-fired missiles and has its sixth atomic bomb test ready.
It is a strong warning to Pyongyang that Washington won’t tolerate its nuclear and missile provocations any longer. It is noteworthy that the Republican and Democratic Parties of the House jointly proposed the bill and approved it overwhelmingly (419 to 1) and rapidly. The bill passed the related subcommittee on March 29.
That shows US lawmakers take the North Korean threats as seriously as the Trump administration does.
China’s restrictions on oil exports to the North, among others, have been actually regarded as the ultimate pressure. China supplies about 90 percent of the energy North Korea needs.
The bill is seen as an effort to press China to stop supplying oil to the North. Suspension of oil supply will be a severe blow to its military as well as its economy.
The bill is meaningful in that it comes at a time as the China-North Korea relations are worsening.
Since the Sino-US summit talks in February, Beijing appears to be moving in step with Washington’s North Korea policy of “maximum pressure and engagement.”
China stopped importing North Korean coal after the talks.
Recently, its news media reported that Beijing was likely to support a UN sanction to cut off oil supply to the North if it goes ahead with its sixth nuclear test and if the UN adds oil supply to its sanctions. Beijing also told Pyongyang that it would not offer military assistance even if the US makes a pre-emptive strike on the North.
North Korea’s official Central News Agency criticized China for betraying its ally, but China’s news outlets blamed North Korea for starting the Korean War, which claimed about 200,000 Chinese soldiers.
The recent turn of events against the North means the Kim regime has a slim chance of surviving if it dares conduct further nuclear weapons tests.
Pyongyang claims its nuclear missile program is a strategic choice to survive, but Kim should understand the consequences they would bring and act rationally.
The problem is South Korea’s stance on the North.
The Democratic Party of Korea vowed to resume inter-Korean economic projects which will generate cash revenue for the North, if the presidential front-runner of the party wins the election, though lately it has equivocated on the pledge.
If the next government goes in the opposite direction from the international trend, the Korea-US alliance will be in trouble and the North Korea issue will become more complicated.
Reconciliation and economic exchanges with North Korea are needed for reunification, but now is not the right time to push for them.
China’s actions against the North, the US bill and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s remark that the US administration is 20 percent to 25 percent of its way into its campaign to put pressure on the North indicate that more pressure will be coming.
Whoever wins the presidential election, tightening sanctions until Kim gives up his nuclear ambitions and comes to the table for dialogue has become the irreversible tide.