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Piling up the pressure

July 27,2017
The North Korean nuclear clock is ticking. Ahead of the 64th anniversary of the Korean War armistice on Thursday, the United States, China and Japan were preparing for another nuclear provocation by the North. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a tougher sanctions bill aimed at denuclearizing the maverick state, while China was reportedly reinforcing military troops along its border. China and Japan are said to be bracing for potential radioactive fallout in case of a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula. But Pyongyang has yet to respond to Seoul’s proposal for military talks. Instead, North Korea shows signs of preparing for yet another missile test.

What attracts out attention is a tougher sanctions bill passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday. In a 419 to 3 vote, the House approved the bill aimed at levying even tougher sanctions on North Korea, Russia and Iran. If passed by the Senate and signed by U.S. President Donald Trump, the bill takes effect immediately. The unprecedentedly hawkish measure will block countries from exporting petroleum to the North, ban the hiring of North Korean workers overseas, prohibit its vessels’ travel on the sea, and cut off its online trading and gambling sites.

Punishing individuals and companies helping with the North’s nuclear and missile development will be a bit tougher. The measure mostly targets China, which has been lukewarm in enforcing sanctions. Susan Thornton, deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department, warned that if any entity transacts with specific North Korean firms, it will have to pay a price. Her statement will likely trigger a new level of Sino-U.S. disagreement and stronger resistance from North Korea.

Uncle Sam is ratcheting up sanctions after the North successfully test-fired an ICBM. The Washington Post quoted an intelligence official saying that North Korea will be able to attack the U.S. mainland with a nuclear warhead-loaded ICBM as early as next year — two years faster than expected.

The Moon Jae-in administration seems to be off guard. The government must devise effective countermeasures to cope with the mounting nuclear danger from North Korea.

China, too, must get on board. If its ally is armed with nuclear weapons, it will surely force Seoul and Tokyo to take a similar path. Could China stand such an arms race? Beijing must cut oil supplies to the recalcitrant state across the border.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 27, Page 30