'China Will Take a Step Back in Enforcing Sanctions Against N Korea' - Professor

'China Will Take a Step Back in Enforcing Sanctions Against N Korea' - Professor © AP Photo / Ju Peng

Japan has expressed concern at Donald Trump's decision to halt military exercises with South Korea. This comes after he said that the war games were tremendously expensive and created “a very provocative situation” for North Korea. Sputnik discussed the issue with Professor Lee Sung-yoon, a Korea specialist at Tufts University.

Sputnik: North Korean state media has recently reported that President Trump committed to lifting sanctions against Pyongyang; in your view is this an exaggeration on the part of North Korean state media and if so to what extent?

Lee Sung-yoon: It could be and we know that the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) is not always the paragon of truth and fact-based reporting. However, there is a lot of credibility to what the agency is saying and I think in this instance, perhaps the North Korean agency may be more credible than the account that President Trump gave in the press conference, because in that hour-long press conference following the dramatic summit meeting, President Trump contradicted himself a few times; he presented factually erroneous things quite a bit, so what President Trump said with respect to canceling or at the very least temporarily suspending the annual combined military exercises between the US and South Korea, that came as a surprise.

Presages, in my view, further concessions that Trump and Kim Jong-un agreed upon, concessions by the United States that are not mentioned in the joint statement. So I think there are more surprising coming along the way and in my view President Trump probably views the troops card, using the US forces in South Korea as a card, not only against North Korea, but also South Korea as a very good move.

Now if I may try to explain. If President Trump threatens to remove or does, in a phased manner, remove some troops from South Korea, he may calculate that this sends simultaneously a stern message to South Korea: If you don’t pay up more money to cover the costs of US soldiers that are stationed in South Korea, then we may just pull all the troops and abandon you, leave you to fend for yourself. Maybe that’s a good tactic in President Trump’s view, who knows, and with respect to North Korea, Trump might think if the US pulls all the troops then the US soldiers will no longer be in harm’s way, in way of North Korea’s artillery range and that might show North Korea that the US may be more prone to striking first, so I do think that troops withdrawal, that issue is on the agenda in the coming days and weeks. And it may even be a fait accompli.

Sputnik: Moving along to China’s relations with North Korea, there are reports that China may lift some of the sanctions against North Korea unilaterally. What restrictions could it lift and do you think Beijing is prepared to take such steps quickly now?

Lee Sung-yoon: Well, we know that sanctions enforcement is not something that you can just switch on and off at will, like electricity for example. Like domestic law enforcement, sanctions enforcement requires a lot of time and effort; one must continuously do it. 

Even the toughest sanctions laws, on paper, if you do not enforce them they are rather meaningless; so at the very least, I think China will take a step back in enforcing sanctions, in cracking down on banned goods leaving North Korea or entering North Korea. We know that the UN Security Council has prohibited North Korea from exporting variety of things, even seafood and textiles and coal. So I think sanctions enforcement will become more lax, but I would say that’s also true of the United States, of South Korea, of basically every UN member state, because this dramatic meeting between Trump and Kim does change dynamic in a dramatic way and I think it gives an incentive to all UN member states to take it easy and not be as steadfast as they may have been over past year in enforcing sanctions against North Korea; and China certainly won’t be an exception.