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Sanctions and summits

May 05,2018
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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a National Day of Prayer event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Thursday. [AP/YONHAP]
Kang Chan-ho
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

If the upcoming North-U.S. summit will bring true denuclearization and peace to the Korean Peninsula, the Nobel Committee will, of course, award the Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Donald Trump this year. He will be the first American president ever to force the North to join negotiations by making it feel the true taste of suffering and fear.

During last winter, many elderly residents of apartments in Pyongyang, where North Korean elites live, died from influenza. International sanctions cut off oil supply to the North, and their homes were not heated. The North begged the South to send medicine. In order to avoid a controversy concerning the North’s possible use of the drugs on the military, the South sent Tamiflu, medication that will expire at the end of this year.

The North Korean ice hockey team, which participated in the PyongChang Winter Olympics in February, came to the South without their own skates. It was a message that the South should help them. The South offered them skates made in Canada, not the United States. The players left the skates behind when they returned to the North after the Games.

The North is suffering due to the sanctions triggered by Trump. The morale of North Korean soldiers, the bastion of the regime, is particularly lower. There are increasing numbers of armed runaway soldiers around the country.

A more serious problem is the plummeting morale of high-ranking generals, the key members of the military. Kim Jong-un and his late father, Kim Jong-il, maintained their “military first” policy by offering the generals luxurious gifts, such as Mercedes-Benz cars, but the sanctions barred the North’s imports of luxurious goods, causing a crack in the generals’ loyalty to the leadership.

Trump also made Kim fear death. On the night of Sept. 23, 2017, a B-1B Lancer bomber, capable of bombing Pyongyang, was dispatched north of the Northern Limit Line for the first time since the Korean War grounded to a vague halt. Because the North Korean military failed to detect the flight due to its aged radar, the United States later made the mission public to shock Pyongyang. More surprisingly, the strategic bomber has made six more flights north of the Northern Limit Line since then. The North still failed to detect them, but it was later frightened after hearing this information from China. “The North Korean officials actually trembled with fear,” a Russian Foreign Ministry official who visited Pyongyang at the time later informed Moscow.

In the past, U.S. presidents attempted to teach a lesson to the North, but gave up the effort when China stopped them. But Trump, who completely ignores the diplomatic rules of Washington, is different. He told Chinese President Xi Jinping clearly that he will act if China doesn’t. He was threatening that the U.S. Treasury would kick out Chinese companies if Beijing does not stop them from making backdoor deals with the North.

Shocked by the threat, China imposed unprecedented, strong sanctions against the North. Kim, who created the worst-ever crisis on the Korean Peninsula since the Korean War by conducting missile and nuclear tests last year, abruptly changed his attitude and started dialogue solely because of the “famine and fear” mission, commanded by Trump and executed by China. It is more than enough reason for Trump to win the Nobel Peace Prize when the denuclearization of the North is realized.

The Moon Jae-in administration must learn a lesson that Trump’s strong pressures created a dramatic change in the North. Fortunately, Moon admitted it, accepted Trump’s hard-line policy and shared information with Washington. As a result, the North surrendered and Moon was capable of scoring a big win by holding the first inter-Korean summit in the South.

Seoul and Washington must tighten sanctions while they engage in talks with Pyongyang in the coming months. Only then can true denuclearization of the North be achieved. Anticipations are high for Trump to win the Nobel Peace Prize in the near future with Moon standing next to him.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 4, Page 30