The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee has recently passed a set of bills against North Korea. One of the bills is called the Korean Interdiction and Modernization of Sanctions Act that calls for the further strengthening of existing sanctions on North Korea. The act was unanimously approved on March 29, eight days after it was introduced. The U.S. Congress’ lower chamber also approved two other measures against North Korea on April 3. The second bill passed by the committee is the North Korea State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act and the third measure is a resolution condemning Pyongyang’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile or ICBM development. It is very unusual that the U.S. has passed multiple bills or measures related to North Korea. This reflects that Washington views North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations as a looming threat. Here’s Professor Kim Yong-hyun from the North Korean Studies Department at Dongguk University.

The unusually swift passage of the North Korea-related bills indicates that the U.S. Congress is determined to respond firmly to any provocations from North Korea. Significantly, both Republicans and Democrats supported the move, reflecting a stern bipartisan stance in the U.S. Congress against North Korea’s possible nuclear test or ICBM launch. Overall, the measures show how the American public perceives North Korea.

The first bill contains various measures aimed at cutting off the financial source of North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. The second bill, which was proposed on January 12, gained traction with North Korea’s alleged murder of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of leader Kim Jong-un, by using VX nerve agent the following month. And the resolution not only condemns North Korea’s nuclear and ICBM development but also urges the prompt deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea. It also calls for China to stop a series of retaliatory measures against South Korea over its decision to deploy the American missile defense system. Meanwhile, on March 31, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted one North Korean trading firm and 11 individuals.

North Korean firm Paeksol Trading Corporation, which trades North Korean coal and minerals, has been newly added to the sanctions list. Considering that North Korea exports coal to China, the measure has the purpose of cutting the key source of foreign money for the regime. North Korean individuals working in Vietnam and Cuba, other than China, have also been blacklisted. It shows that the U.S. is seeking to impose sanctions on North Korea in diverse ways through the new sanctions, which are the first of their kind by the Trump administration. In the process, the U.S. aims to cut off North Korea’s funding as it might be used for nuclear and missile development. The U.S. is also urging the international community to join the sanctions.

With North Korea criticizing Washington’s recent legislative move day after day, U.S. President Donald Trump has said that China will have to decide to help the U.S. with North Korea or the U.S. could act alone. Trump made the remarks in an interview with the Financial Times on April 2, in an apparent move to pressure China to join sanctions against North Korea.

It seems Trump threw a jab at China ahead of the U.S.-China summit. Trump’s remarks mean that the U.S. will thwart North Korea’s nuclear development on its own if China does not take action aggressively. It could mean the U.S. may use various means, including a military option. It appears that Trump is intending to dominate over his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping regarding the North Korea-related issues during their summit.

The U.S. has been stepping up its pressure in a bid to encourage China to join the sanctions on North Korea, while Beijing sticks to its previous position that it advocates dialogue and negotiations for the solution of the North Korean nuclear issue. An intense tug-of-war is anticipated during the U.S.-China summit, which is scheduled to take place in Florida on Thursday and Friday. The bilateral summit is expected to provide important momentum to determine the future course of the North Korean nuclear standoff.

The two sides are likely to agree on the need to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons, but they will still differ on how to do so. Even while confirming their differing views on this matter, the U.S. and China will probably promise to develop constructive ties. I guess the two sides will hold lower-level talks later to discuss the problem in more detail.

In the meantime, North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the East Sea on Wednesday, April 5. Through the provocation, Pyongyang seems to be protesting the South Korea-U.S. combined military drills and also drawing attention ahead of the U.S.-China summit. North Korea’s nuclear and missile issue is likely to be among top agenda items during the summit, which is expected to greatly influence Pyongyang’s future move.

If the U.S. stresses its hard-line stance toward North Korea during the U.S.-China summit, Pyongyang may possibly resort to military provocations in a show of force. The North may go ahead with its sixth nuclear test or test-firing of an intermediate-range missile or a submarine-launched ballistic missile in order to pressure the U.S. and the international community. But if the U.S. and China manage to agree on some issues related to North Korea, the North will find it hard to take additional actions. In short, the result of the summit will affect how North Korea may act in the future.

With the political situation on the Korean Peninsula closely related to the outcome of the U.S.-China summit and the level of North Korean provocations, regional diplomacy in Northeast Asia is expected to see a major change.

[Interview] Orchestra Consisting of S. K. Musicians and Teenage N. K. Defectors

A concert took place in early February in celebration of the launch of a special orchestra named Korea Radix Orchestra, which consists of top-notch South Korean musicians and teenage defectors from North Korea. Let’s hear from Kim Ju-seong, a North Korean defector and leader of the unique orchestra.

I was very nervous until the day of the first concert, wondering if audiences would really come to the show. To my surprise, 280 people came to the concert hall. And their response was more enthusiastic than we had expected. In fact, we didn’t prepare an encore performance because we never expected that situation. But the audience continued to shout “Encore!” and we presented the same piece three more times. I thought that it was the power of inter-Korean harmony. We became one through music. The harmonized music can hopefully spread throughout the nation and the world over, and I believe this is another way of expressing our wish or desire for unification.

The word “radix” means “root” in Latin. The name of the orchestra contains the hope that it will serve as the strong root for teenage North Korean defectors who have to resettle in South Korea. It also means South and North Korea, which have long been divided, should be restored to one nation sharing the same root. The orchestra was launched last November through the “11(one-one) Project,” which is dedicated to providing North Korean newcomers with support in art and culture.

We, defectors, will continue to live in South Korea, so I wondered what I could do for our future generation. I wanted to develop children’s talent and help them resettle in South Korea through music. I thought South Korean musicians could teach them music as part of a talent donation. The performers could teach them one-on-one, present performances together and nurture them as professional musicians if they were talented in music. That’s how this project started.

The “11 Project” is not a one-time event but a sustainable cultural program designed to contribute to society. One-one here means that a teacher and a student, or South and North Korea, meet on a one-to-one basis. The Korean Peninsula is divided along the 38th parallel. If the two figures—3 and 8—are added, the total is 11, and the number 11 or one-one contains the wish that unification will come about soon. The orchestra members get together to practice when preparing for a show. But in normal times, South Korean performers provide private lessons to North Korean teenagers one-on-one. While playing the musical instruments together, they also design their future together. Let’s hear from violinist Kim Mi-ga, her student Choi Dae-jun and Choi’s father Choi Jong-hun.

I heard many North Korean teenagers had a hard time learning or nurturing their dreams after escaping their home country. I hope I can share my talent with them, if only in a small way.

It’s fun. I’m looking forward to the practice session. I hope to become a violinist like my teacher.

At first, my son asked me, “Dad, do you think I can do this?” After he learned from his teacher, he confidently said, “I can do it. Dad, I’ll learn this musical instrument and go to Seoul National University.” He was an elementary school student, but he decided on his future and began to cherish his dream. I thought it was amazing.

The orchestra has 22 members, including professors and the members of local symphony orchestras. The volunteer work of the top musicians impresses Mr. Kim, who came from North Korea.

We often have to travel far to hold performances, but the members are willing to engage in their volunteer work, even spending their own money. They don’t want anything. At first, I couldn’t understand it. I once told them that they would suffer a loss if they continued with this work. But they said that they could contribute to society and the value of doing so would be enormous. I was deeply touched by their way of thinking. I had thought that South Korean society was dominated by materialism, but I realized that this society had some beautiful elements. I was able to see a different side of South Korea.

The orchestra will stage performances here in South Korea in April and May, and plans to hold a show in Canada as well. It is considering a variety of interesting shows, such as performing with North Korean players of traditional string instruments like haegeum or gayageum and collaborating with dancers. The 11 Project and Korea Radix Orchestra were created with the purpose of exploring the cultural potential of young North Korean defectors and helping them ease their cultural estrangement in South Korea. They are believed to have achieved unification in music, and they hope this will lead to the unification of the two Koreas.

Wouldn’t it be nice to achieve unification simply by singing songs together? Of course, that’s impossible. I feel sad when I see Koreans coming into conflict even within South Korea. No matter how different opinions are, I’m sure we all have the same hope that South and North Korea will become one. And I think the orchestra can contribute as a reminder of that wish. I hope to continue to do this job as long as I live. After unification, I want to travel to Pyongyang and various other parts of North Korea to show local people that we, defectors, have lived decent lives in South Korea.

Here’s hoping that the orchestra’s beautiful harmony will spread throughout the northern part of the Korean Peninsula and its dream of unification will be realized soon.