U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a press conference last week that the U.S. is reviewing the possibility of re-designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. Tillerson’s remarks indicate that the Donald Trump administration may use this issue as a means of pressuring the Pyongyang regime under its new North Korea policy of “maximum pressure and engagement.” Here’s Yonhap News Agency reporter Jang Yong-hun.



It seems the U.S. is demonstrating to the outside world that it will put strong pressure on North Korea. In fact, it has not been confirmed that North Korea was involved in any specific terrorist activities. In this situation, the U.S. mentioned the possibility of returning the North to its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The remarks are interpreted as Washington’s determination to severely punish North Korea for conducting a series of missile test launches and developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the U.S. mainland.



North Korea was first designated as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1988 after the bombing of a South Korean passenger jet the previous year. Twenty years later, in 2008, North Korea was removed from the terrorism list under the George W. Bush administration as Pyongyang destroyed the cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor site and agreed to verification of its nuclear programs. When the South Korean warship Cheonan sank after a North Korean torpedo attack in 2010, and when North Korea was blamed for hacking Sony Pictures in 2014, the Obama government examined re-naming North Korea as a terrorism sponsor state. But it put the issue on the back burner, saying that the incidents do not meet the requirements for blacklisting.



It is rather difficult to think that the Cheonan incident resulted from a terrorist activity. The torpedo attack of a North Korean submarine on the South Korean Navy corvette is viewed as a military skirmish between the two Koreas, not a terrorist act targeting many unspecified civilians. On a similar note, the hacking attack on Sony Pictures was not really aimed at civilians but rather a private company. For that reason, the two incidents failed to reinstate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.



The U.S. removed Cuba from its terrorism list in May 2015. At present, three countries, namely Iran, Sudan, and Syria, are on this list. Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill calling for re-designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. The murder of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was added to the cases that may meet the conditions for re-listing. Last month, the Senate also introduced legislation calling for North Korea to be put back on the terrorism list. It is the first time since the removal of North Korea from the list that both houses of the U.S. Congress have pushed for the North’s re-designation.



It is hard to define military activities such as nuclear weapons development and missile test launches as terrorist acts. So, it’s necessary to cite the assassination of Kim Jong-nam as the reason for blacklisting. The re-listing depends on whether the North Korean government is confirmed to have masterminded the terrorism act. But Congress’ ongoing efforts to return North Korea to the terrorism list could at least create a political environment to pressure the Trump administration. With full support from Congress, the U.S. administration may feel pressured to place North Korea back on the terrorism list.



Once North Korea is re-designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, the Trump administration will enforce relevant laws and regulations and strictly block the North from engaging in trade. The U.S. will also disapprove of international organizations’ plans to provide loans to North Korea. But the additional sanctions from the re-listing will not be very effective because the communist regime is already under U.N. Security Council sanctions as well as Washington’s own sanctions. Still, through the re-designation, the U.S. can show its determination to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue by mobilizing all possible means available.



North Korea is unlikely to be hit economically by the U.S. because there are hardly any economic exchanges between the two countries. But Washington’s new action may discourage China from conducting various trade activities with North Korea. This will inevitably influence North Korea as well.



The re-designation means that the Trump administration will brand North Korea as a terror state internationally. If Pyongyang is put back on the list for the first time in nine years, the symbolic effect of the re-listing will be enormous. Under a great deal of psychological pressure, North Korea is expected to strongly protest the move.



Washington’s re-designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism will draw a strong backlash from the North. In doing so, the U.S. could strengthen pressure against the North, under the so-called “maximum pressure and engagement” strategy. But the U.S. may find it difficult to strengthen “engagement” since North Korea is expected to refuse to cooperate with the U.S. and intensely confront it instead. I expect their relationship will be strained for some time.



South Korea and the U.S. held a counter-terrorism policy meeting on Tuesday to discuss ways to prevent the spread of international terrorism and deal with it more effectively. If North Korea makes additional provocations, including its sixth nuclear test, the U.S. will speed up the process of putting North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism.



[Interview] Defector-Turned-Female Boxer Defends World Title


On April 15, a super featherweight boxing match took place at a gymnasium in Siheung, south of Seoul. Female boxer Choi Hyun-mi defended her World Boxing Association, or WBA, women’s super featherweight title for the fourth time by winning by a unanimous decision over Asian champion Kimika Miyoshi from Japan. Choi is the only South Korean boxer to earn a WBA title. With the victory, the undefeated boxer has a record of 13 wins and one draw.



There’s not even the slightest bit of falseness in the boxing ring. There, I can show everything perfectly. I’m already a world champion, so I can’t afford to look back. I have to move on. I’ve achieved something very challenging and I’m confident that there is nothing I can’t do. Boxing has been a teacher and a gift to me. I’ll never give up on the sport and keep at it.



Choi, in fact, is a North Korean defector. In North Korea, she was scouted by a coach at her school when she was 11 years old. She joined a youth boxing team with the goal of participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But in 2003, Choi and her family defected from North Korea and came to the South the following year via Vietnam. While attending middle school here in South Korea, she wondered what she could do better than her peers. She decided to lace up her gloves again.



I wanted to achieve success in South Korea. My goal in North Korea was to win a gold medal at the Olympics, and I thought I could train harder in a better environment here. That’s why I started boxing again.



After advancing to a physical education high school, she won the best fighter award at an amateur boxing competition. And she won the WBA women’s featherweight championship belt in 2008, four years after she arrived in South Korea. The 18-year-old Choi became the youngest world champion. Her joy didn’t last long, though. To defend her title, she went through rigorous training. She had to skip school excursions and field trips. She even had to delay taking the college entrance exam by one year because her fight was held on the exam day. Thanks to her hard training, she was able to defend her title seven times. Everything seemed to be going well, when she suddenly gave up her title. To take up a new challenge, she moved up a weight class to super featherweight.



Boxers in the top ten world ranking are allowed to challenge the world champion. I had already defeated seven of them, and defending the title was meaningless to me. A single defeat meant that I would lose my title. I wasn’t happy even though I managed to defend the title. I found myself hoping to push the envelope. I wasn’t satisfied with title defenses. I wanted to get back to basics and challenge for another world title with a renewed mind.



On August 15, 2013, Choi claimed the WBA women’s super featherweight title by defeating her Japanese rival to become a boxing legend after winning championships in two different weight classes. She received various promising offers from scouts in the U.S. and Japan. But she rejected them because they were based on the assumption that she would become a naturalized citizen of a particular country. For the North Korea-born athlete, who has worn the national flags of both North and South Korea on her chest, her nationality was something that could not be traded for money.



I got offers from the U.S. and France, and officials there wanted me to be naturalized in their country. They seemed to be interested in my unusual background. But I had been a South Korean boxer, with the national flag of taegeukgi on my chest, even before I became a world champion. I had no intention of becoming naturalized in other countries. I wanted to do everything, including boxing, here in South Korea.



Choi says she sometimes felt burdened by the label of “North Korean defector,” which might overshadow her status of a world champion. But now she is a role model for her fellow North Korean expats, giving them hope and courage. She is thankful for that and feels proud of herself. She also actively participates in volunteer work for neighbors in need.



I’ve delivered some food to the elderly at a nursing home. They reminded me of my grandparents in North Korea. The senior citizens were delighted to see me doing something, and I was also happy to see their bright faces. During the Chuseok holiday, I volunteered to distribute meals to homeless people at Seoul Station. In the winter, I delivered coal briquettes. I also took part in volunteer activities in Cambodia and Laos. I try to participate in any kind of volunteer work, if time allows.



Choi majored in sports science in college. Currently, she is studying for a master’s degree in social physical education in the hopes of teaching students as a first-generation female boxer. She also has a dream to nurture students and boxers in North Korea after unification.



When Korea is unified, I hope to visit the place where I used to train. I used to run along Daedong-gang River in Pyongyang. In North Korea, a lot of great athletes don’t have an opportunity to showcase their talent. I hope to teach them so they can become world champions like me.



We’re looking forward to seeing this world champion running with young North Korean athletes along Daedong-gang River.