The Donald Trump administration marked its first 100 days in power on April 29. The White House cited North Korea’s isolation and Washington’s repositioning of military assets to confront the communist regime’s provocative missile tests as one of its security-related achievements. The current U.S. administration, which has even hinted at military action, is considered bolder than its predecessors when it comes to dealing with North Korea. Analysts have mixed views on Trump’s North Korea policy during his first 100 days in office. Here’s Professor Yang Mu-jin at the University of North Korean Studies.
I think the U.S. administration has mainly focused on pressuring North Korea during its first 100 days. To show its tough approach to North Korea, the U.S. has used China and held the largest-ever South Korea-U.S. combined military drills, with the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson twice conducting drills with South Korea’s military near the Korean Peninsula. But North Korea has refrained from any high-intensity provocations, such as a nuclear test or a test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Rather, the North has responded with low-intensity armed protests in an apparent bid to adjust the level of its provocations. But some analysts are saying that North Korea will advance its nuclear capabilities further as long as the U.S. continues with its hostile policy toward Pyongyang. They suspect that North Korea has remained unchanged in its position, since the nation is speeding up its nuclear weapons development at the Yongbyon nuclear complex.
On April 26, the Trump administration invited 100 senators to the White House and explained its new North Korea policy, which was characterized by “maximum pressure and engagement,” with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issuing a rare joint statement. The officials then took the unusual step of briefing the House of Representatives as well. This highlights how the U.S. has prioritized resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. The key point of the statement is that the U.S. aims to pressure North Korea and bring it to the negotiating table through strong economic sanctions and diplomatic means, while a military response still remains an option.
Washington’s new North Korea policy is summarized as “maximum pressure and engagement.” It seems that the U.S. will pressure North Korea to take sincere action for denuclearization and, if that happens, it could engage in dialogue with the North. As a means of eliciting North Korea’s denuclearization, the U.S. would use diplomatic isolation, security pressure, and economic sanctions. For diplomatic isolation, the U.S. would encourage the international community to reduce relations with North Korea. Security pressure would mean that the U.S. will not rule out the possibility of a military option. Through economic sanctions, the U.S. may restrict North Korea’s trade, tourism, and the dispatch of its overseas workers. It is significant that the Trump administration has defined North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons as an important national security issue and also left the door open for dialogue.
China has responded positively to Washington’s latest statement on North Korea. In a regular briefing on April 27, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said it is a positive development that the U.S. is moving to ease tension with North Korea through dialogue. He also asked involved countries to take note of this attitude and message from the U.S.
The three principles of China’s policy toward the Korean Peninsula are denuclearization, peace, and stability in the region, and to solve problems through dialogue. In this vein, Beijing positively evaluates that Washington leaves room for dialogue with Pyongyang. However, China and the U.S. have yet to build mutual trust, and the positive evaluation may turn into a negative one at any time.
On May 1, North Korea made its first response to the Trump administration’s new policy on Pyongyang. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the nation would continue with its nuclear development, regardless of Washington’s policy. He mentioned the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson’s arrival in waters off the Korean Peninsula and criticized the U.S. for attempting to strike North Korea while talking about a military option. Analysts have different opinions about Pyongyang’s attitude.
I think the North Korean foreign ministry spokesman’s statement repeats the nation’s previous argument. In other words, the statement indicates that the North will continue to advance its nuclear capabilities as long as the U.S.’s hostile policy toward the North remains unchanged. But given North Korea’s recent attitude, such as refraining from further nuclear tests and maintaining normal military readiness, it might be working toward dialogue with the U.S.
In an interview with Bloomberg News on May 1, Trump mentioned the possibility of dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. It was the first time that he expressed his willingness to meet with the North Korean leader since taking office, although he attached the condition that the meeting takes place “under the right circumstances.” Some say that Trump’s remarks indicate his North Korea policy will focus more on dialogue in the future, while others speculate that he is looking for ways to justify even stronger pressure against North Korea. Attention turns to how North Korea-U.S. relations may unfold.
North Korea has a very unique state system that highly esteems the dignity of the regime and its top leader. If Trump does not provoke the nation in this sensitive issue, North Korea may try to shift toward a dialogue phase. Washington’s North Korea policy is to use pressure and engagement in tandem, while Trump has recognized Kim Jong-un as North Korea’s leader. Also, the new government in South Korea is expected to put its focus on inter-Korean dialogue. I think Pyongyang is well aware of that. If North Korea refrains from major provocations until the end of May, a climate for inter-Korean talks or dialogue between North Korea and the U.S. might be created. Then, the current phase of tension might gradually turn into a phase of dialogue.
Tension on the Korean Peninsula was at its highest in April, but fortunately, there was no military clash in the region. With tension still lingering, the international community is paying attention to the result of the May 9 presidential election in South Korea.
[Interview] Defector Couple Runs a Dumpling Factory Title
Near the Namdong Industrial Complex in Incheon, west of Seoul, Mr. Choi Chang-guk and his wife Yoon Hyang-soon run a small food factory. They are both North Korean defectors, and the factory was named after Choi’s hometown in North Korea. Let’s hear from Mr. Choi.
I came from Buyong-dong in Haeju City, Hwanghae Province. I named my company, Haeju Buyong Food, after my hometown. After Korea is unified, I’ll certainly come back home. There, I hope to build a factory with the same name.
The couple defected from North Korea and arrived in the South in 2005. After Choi graduated from college here in South Korea in 2009, he was offered a job at a research institute dedicated to unification issues. But they wanted to take up a new challenge in the capitalist South Korean society. They opened a butcher shop and a restaurant. Here’s Ms. Yoon.
Butcher shops here usually give their customers free gifts like dishtowels on special occasions. But we used to offer North Korean-style soondae, which is sausage stuffed with various ingredients, for free during special events. Customers liked the food very much. Even after the special events were over, many still wanted soondae and even offered to buy them. So we decided to open a soondae soup restaurant next to the butcher shop. It was a restaurant specializing in North Korean food, and we also offered North Korean-style dumplings as well.
Everything seemed to be going well, when they suddenly faced an unexpected problem. Ms. Yoon collapsed from overwork and stress in the process of resettling in South Korea. The couple temporarily shut down the shop and the restaurant. While Yoon was recovering, they discussed what to do in the future. They came up with the idea of running a factory producing North Korean-style dumplings. They were able to develop king-size dumplings that had a North Korean flavor but could also please the palate of South Korean consumers. They set up the dumpling factory in 2012. Here again is Mr. Choi.
North Korean dumplings do not usually contain glass noodles. But I thought it would be important to cater to consumers in South Korea. So, we added some glass noodles to our dumplings. South Korean dumplings use ground meat, but we chop meat into small pieces for our products. In other words, we mixed the South and North Korean recipes. We call them “unification dumplings.” These unique dumplings are loved by our customers.
As their dumpling business has stabilized, Choi and Yoon are now preparing for a project to assist teenage North Korean defectors who don’t have a family in their studies. They hope to give what they have received from people close to them back to society.
When we suffered from difficulties, we were fortunate enough to meet kind people who cared for us warmly and helped us overcome any problems. Every time I received help, I thought I would do something for neighbors in need, even only in a small way, when my situation improved.
The dumpling factory has 12 workers, including North Korean newcomers. Choi hopes to hire various other people, including those whose careers may have stalled, so he can realize his dream of achieving a “small unification” that would start from his company.
I hope that workers in my company can help each other and share their feelings. My dream is that unification will start from my company. At present, many people still don’t know about Haeju king-size dumplings. I wish many more citizens in South Korea will enjoy my dumplings and learn that the delicious dumplings were made by defectors from the North. I believe unification will come about in that way, through food.
Here’s hoping that the “unification dumplings” made by the defector couple and the factory workers will be a small beginning of Korea’s unification.