On August 5, US-led sanctions were imposed on North Korea for its long-range missile tests last month. But why is the US so obsessed with this country? Is it all about its missile ambitions?
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Narration: On August 5, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to impose fresh sanctions on North Korea over the country's long-range missile tests last month.
SOUNDBITE [English] Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N: “This resolution is the single largest economic sanctions package ever leveled against the North Korean regime. This is the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Matthew Rycroft, British Ambassador to the U.N: “Today Mr. President we have banned North Korean exports of coal, iron ore, lead and seafood. These are the lifeline exports that sustain Kim Jong UN's deadly aspirations.”
Narration: Equally thrilled by the resolution, US President Donald Trump tweeted, "The United Nations Security Council just voted 15-0 to sanction North Korea. China and Russia voted with us. Very big financial impact!" North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. The new measures came in response to five nuclear weapons tests and four long-range missile launches,though some argue the range of the missiles have been exaggerated.
SOUNDBITE [English] Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister: “We differ with the US in the assessment of the threat from North Korea. We think that the previous missile test was that of an intermediate range missile and not an intercontinental ballistic missile as the US side and the US government says, but all this should be discussed and this is debatable and we should find a proper way forward on truly common bases.”
Narration: The sanctions target about one third of North Korea's estimated $3 billion in annual exports. But experts believe the sanctions cannot be crippling as they seem.
SOUNDBITE [English] Chris McGrane, Political Commentator: “It's harm for Korea. I cannot see it be harm for anybody else outside the country. But every time a new sanction is imposed on North Korea, the country will find a new policy to counterbalance the sanctions.”
Narration: In addition, China has long avoided tough economic sanctions against the North. The country accounts for more than 90 percent of North Korea’s external trade. Critics like Harry J. Kazianis at the Center for the National Interest argue that "China fears that too much pressure could collapse the regime of Kim Jong-Un, sending millions of refugees into China and igniting a civil war where nuclear and chemical weapons could lead to catastrophe." But china has an extra strategic motivation to back the North, if necessary.
SOUNDBITE [English] Chris McGrane, Political Commentator: “America wants China to lose its buffer zone, which is North Korea. China do not wants America's troops on its border and they will do whatever they can to maintain the North to survive this, whether it be the same leadership, the same government and that's out of question. The government of North Korea will survive this and will maintain its independence in the face of American aggression, I believe.”
Narration: However, there are fears that the new sanctions target the lives of the ordinary people, rather than the missile program.
SOUNDBITE [English] Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister: “This resolution should not equal measures that are targeted on, you know, stopping the illegal activities of Pyongyang in the area of nuclear weaponisation and missile developments to the whole issue of economic suffocation of the whole country. Here we have a red line which we should observe.”
Narration: Over the few past weeks there has been a fierce war of words between Washington and Pyongyang.
SOUNDBITE [English] Donald Trump, US President: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the US. They would be met with Fire and Fury like the world has never seen.”
Narration: North Korea, in turn has responded with the announcement of a plan to potentially launch four intermediate-range ballistic missiles towards the US territory of Guam. However, many analysts believe the whole show is not more than "bluster".
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:21
SOUNDBITE [English] Patricia Lewis, Research Director for International Security, Chatham House: “They're certainly upping the rhetoric; certainly the reference from President Trump on fury and fire is to match Kim Jong-Un's sea of fire rhetoric that he often uses about what North Korea might do to the United States. It's mostly bluster I would say and behind the scenes I think are calmer heads and cooler minds trying to sort out this situation.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Vassily Nebenzia, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations: “We were saying and continue to say that a military solution is not an option in any way and that the resolution that we adopted is not an act in itself that we have A, to work out a strategy and B, to involve parties into the political dialogue. Russia and China were proposing that constantly for more than a month now, in fact earlier, and we think that this plea for political dialogue and easing of tensions is becoming even more relevant now.”
Narration: While both sides are being encouraged to come to the negotiating table, North Korea seems more reluctant.
SOUNDBITE [Chinese] Bang Kwang Hyuk, North Korea's Spokesman of Asean Regional: “We affirmed that we'll never place our nuclear and ballistic missiles programme on the negotiating table and won't budge an inch on strengthening nuclear armament.”
Narration: In 1994 October, North Korea and the US signed an Agreed Framework under which Pyongyang commits to freezing its nuclear program in return for heavy fuel oil and two light-water nuclear reactors. While the North honored the obligation, the US proved otherwise.
In a statement after the resolution passed, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that Trump "will continue working with allies and partners to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to end its threatening and destabilizing behavior." On the other hand, North Korea has consistently blamed the U.S. for escalating tensions in the Korean Peninsula by carrying out joint military exercises in the region with South Korea. It claims that its missile program is a powerful deterrent against such threats.
SOUNDBITE [Chinese] Bang Kwang Hyuk, North Korea's Spokesman of Asean Regional: “Is our nuclear possession a threat to the world or is it just a threat to the United States? We want to make it clear that the worsening situation on the Korean peninsula, as well as the nuclear issues, were caused by the United States.”
Narration: While Donald Trump himself has the sole, exclusive and unrestricted power to launch almost 1,000 nuclear warheads in a matter of minutes, it is Kim Jong-in who has been depicted as the madman with nuclear weapons. In fact, the demonization of North Korea has been the US long-running project.
SOUNDBITE [English] Chris McGrane, Political Commentator: “One thing that Americans are very good at doing is hiding the opposition's messages and demands. They don’t want the world to know what North Korea wants. It's always the question that has been reapting many times. People are confused. I don’t understand this confusion. You only have to listen to the North Koreans to know what the demands are. They don’t want the people to know what the demands are because the demands are so reasonable: they want a peace treaty signed with the South because the Korean war officially is not over and the want the American army removed from their borders, as any country would want an aggressive foreign army that is on their borders removed.”
Narration: There is only one obvious reason why the US is obsessed with North Korea. It allows the US to maintain a massive military presence in East Asia. If not for tensions on the Korean peninsula, the US would lose its rationale for its network of military bases in the region, which are primarily meant to threaten and contain China. That’s why some argue if North Korea didn’t exist, the US would create it.
So far, North Korea has shown that it does not respond to punitive measures, and from bitter experience, nor to calls for negations with the US. The country has learned through decades of U.S. efforts at isolation how to avoid commercial and financial restrictions. At this time, there is nothing on the horizon to show that North Korea is to cave in to the US-led sanctions and threats.