Critically, these measures can be enforced without Chinese cooperation or even in the face of Chinese obstruction. Moreover, under Executive Orders 13,382 and 13,551, the United States can freeze the assets of Chinese and other third-country entities suspected of helping North Korea’s proliferation activities. If Washington sustains this aggressive policy, the accumulated pressure would most likely minimize Chinese obfuscation and may even induce the pragmatic leadership in Beijing to cooperate in protecting the integrity of the international financial system.
Such measures, if sustained, would also drive away international entities that, intentionally or not, undermine United Nations-mandated sanctions. This credible threat of devastating consequences for the Kim regime gives U.S. and South Korean diplomats the leverage to secure a verifiable disarmament agreement and a disincentive for Pyongyang to approach denuclearization talks with the willful deceit it has shown over the past 20 years.
Concurrently, Pyongyang’s crimes against humanity and the information blockade that conceals them should be targeted. Last month, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay called for an “in-depth inquiry” into “one of the worst — but least understood and reported — human rights situations in the world.” Washington and Seoul should draw global attention to the North’s horrific prison camps and obscene squandering of wealth while citizens classified as “wavering” or “hostile” starve. Free societies everywhere should vastly increase support for radio broadcasts and other efforts to transmit information into North Korea. As the sole legitimate representative government on the peninsula, South Korea should take the lead in this global human rights campaign. Park Geun-hye should also reinforce programs that facilitate resettlement of North Korean defectors.
The more that democratic societies recognize the North Korean regime as a threat to humanity, not just an idiosyncratic abstraction, the less they will allow their leaders to resort to politically expedient measures regarding future provocations by Pyongyang or to indefinitely postpone Korean reunification.
Faced with this two-pronged strategy, the Kim regime is likely, in the near term, to resort to further provocations. In time, however, it is far more likely to yield to pressure than to lash out in full military force, for the North Korean leadership entertains no suicidal impulses. Obama and Park should realize that only a credible deterrent will compel Pyongyang to negotiate disarmament in good faith and to relax — even if in increments — its totalitarian control of its populace. The sooner and more palpable a threat the cash-strapped Kim regime is exposed to, and the more that downtrodden North Koreans are exposed to the outside world, the sooner a safer, more humane North Korea will become a reality.