On August 5, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2371 calling for new sanctions against North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s two test-launches of an intercontinental ballistic missile. In line with the U.N. resolution, China has placed a total ban on imports of some of North Korean products, including coal, iron ore, and seafood. On August 17, a lawyers’ committee in North Korea said that the U.N. sanctions should be nullified, calling them an act of infringing on North Korea’s right to live. The new sanctions are expected to deal a serious economic blow to North Korea. Here’s Professor Lim Eul-chul from the Institute for Far East Studies at Kyungnam University to explain the sanctions’ potential impact on the North.

North Korea’s hard currency earnings will inevitably be hit hard by the sanctions. I imagine the lives of North Koreans residing in China have become more difficult because their income from foreign currency earnings has reduced. But those who belong to the upper class in North Korea will pressure and exploit the less-privileged to get what they want. After all, it is ordinary citizens who will suffer the most as they are prone to exploitation from above.

On August 21, the Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times claimed that the new U.N. sanctions are rather ineffective in blocking North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, while causing much damage to Chinese companies. Why is China questioning the usefulness of the sanctions?

China seems to believe that sanctions and pressure cannot discourage North Korea from developing missiles and nuclear weapons. Even if the North may be subject to additional sanctions, Beijing assumes that the Kim Jong-un regime would rather accept them and never give up on its nuclear programs. Therefore, China thinks that the U.S. holds the key to the North Korean nuclear issue and that North Korea will never abandon its nuclear weapons development unless the U.S. guarantees the security of the North Korean regime through bilateral dialogue and negotiations. China has long held this view.

The Global Times’ skepticism about the new U.N. sanctions is based on the economic growth rate of North Korea last year. According to the Bank of Korea, the North Korean economy grew at its fastest pace in 17 years in 2016, when the nation’s gross domestic product rose 3.9 percent from the previous year.

Although the North Korean economy relies heavily on China, domestic markets have expanded considerably in recent years, with individuals accumulating private funds by doing business. As a result, the local economy has been circulating in its own way, despite the fact that it is isolated from the outside economy. On the back of the circulation of money and increased production, consumption and investment, the North Korean economy grew 3.9 percent last year, when North Korea was, in fact, under the strongest international sanctions. This indicates that a significant amount of private capital has been accumulated within North Korea. But it still remains to be seen whether the nation can maintain growth amid the sanctions. Obviously, North Korea is running out of capital. It may hold out for some time. If the tough sanctions continue for three or five years, however, the North Korean economy may suffer a heavy blow.

Meanwhile, Russia’s oil exports to North Korea doubled in the first half of this year from the same period of last year, despite strong international economic pressure on the North. According to Japan’s Sankei Shimbun newspaper on August 21, Russian oil shipments to North Korea in the first six months of the year amounted to 4,305 tons and were worth about 2.4 million US dollars. Again, it raises the question whether the sanctions on North Korea are effective. Russia has been opposed to the international move to increase the level of economic sanctions against Pyongyang. When the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2371 early this month, Russia strongly objected to oil-related sanctions on the North.

It seems North Korea has diversified its oil import channels in consideration of the possibility of the suspension of crude oil supply from China. For that purpose, North Korea may have been contacting Russia, which is geographically close and may possibly cooperate with the North even amid international sanctions. By importing more oil products from Russia, North Korea also seeks to maintain a balance when it comes to oil imports. The amount of oil imports from Russia is still insignificant. Apart from those posted in the official data, however, it is clear that North Korea imports various other oil products through unofficial routes in a bid to avoid international sanctions.

On August 22, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on 10 entities and six individuals, mainly from China and Russia, for their alleged connection with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. This is the fourth time this year alone that the U.S. has decided to slap its own sanctions in regards to the North Korean nuclear issue. The latest sanctions are focused on entities and individuals suspected of assisting Pyongyang’s nuclear program. The Chinese Embassy in Washington has strongly opposed the move. Professor Lim talks about the future prospects for international sanctions on North Korea.

If North Korea goes ahead with another missile test or shows stronger missile capabilities, the international community will have no choice but to take even tougher sanctions, with the U.S. only intensifying its own sanctions. Washington’s sanctions are mostly about pressuring China to make North Korea feel more pain. But China is sticking to its previous position that the nuclear issue should be resolved through dialogue and negotiations. So Beijing will stop short of suspending its oil supply to North Korea, since it will deal a deadly blow to the North. The purpose of the sanctions is to prevent North Korea from conducting additional nuclear or missile tests. I think it’s necessary to employ sanctions and more sophisticated dialogue or negotiations in tandem in order to induce North Korea to refrain from additional provocations.

International sanctions on North Korea have only become stronger and stricter, in line with the nation’s nuclear and missile provocations. It’s also up to North Korea whether future sanctions are even tougher or not.

[Interview] Book Introduces and Compares Folk Stories in Two Koreas

The Institute of Humanities for Unification at Konkuk University has published a book titled “Old Stories that the South and the North Read Together.” Let’s hear from Kim Jong-gun, professor at the institute, talking about the purpose of the book.

I’d say that old folktales are a cultural asset shared by South and North Korea. The two Koreas have published their own books about folk stories. While comparing the stories from the two sides, we found that some stories are interpreted differently, although they have the same origin. We wanted to figure out why and from what point the stories began to evolve differently and how different they actually are. That’s why we decided to publish the book.

The Institute of Humanities for Unification approaches the issues of Korea’s unification from the perspectives of humanities. With this purpose in mind, the institute has developed various educational programs and cultural content over the last ten years.

We use humanities as a way of studying unification in various aspects, such as unification of people, unification of culture, and the process of unification itself. We introduced the term “humanities for unification” for the first time and it seeks to build humanities toward communication, healing, and integration. First, we find out how people in South and North Korea can better communicate with each other when they talk about their thoughts and ideology. Secondly, Korean people have been through a lot of trauma in the course of experiencing Japanese colonial rule, the Korean War, and the long national division. We believe unification will be impossible without healing the trauma. That’s why we should talk about healing. And lastly, without the integration of culture in daily life, Korean people may continue to suffer from conflict even after unification. Our task is to research the three paradigms—communication, healing, and integration.

Ten specialists in literature, philosophy and cultural content jointly wrote the new book for more than a year. Each chapter contains North Korean folklores. They are compared to stories published in South Korea so their similarities and differences are analyzed. Under three different themes, the book introduces ten folk stories. In the South Korean version of a folktale titled “The Brother and the Sister Who Became the Sun and the Moon,” a poor mother with two children works at a rich house and receives rice cakes in return. But she is eaten by a tiger on her way back home. The tiger comes to her house to eat the children as well. The brother and sister manage to escape from the tiger when a rope miraculously comes down from heaven. As the children ascend into heaven, they turn into the sun and the moon, respectively. The North Korean version is slightly different, though.

In the famous folktale, a rope is sent down from heaven to save the children in danger. But in the North Korean version, a good, strong man in the neighborhood saves them. North Korea probably wanted to get rid of religious or supernatural elements like heaven. The communist nation places great emphasis on community spirit, and this story underlines that people can be rescued by other people, not by heaven.

Also, readers of North Korean folk stories include not only children but adults as well. This is another difference between South Korean folktales and North Korean ones.

In South Korea, authors of children’s books write old tales that many people may have heard from their grandparents. The stories are targeted towards children. In North Korea, in contrast, folk stories are used as a means of educating or reforming people. With the basic plot kept intact, different tales can be added to the main story. As a result, the stories are altered and become much longer than the original ones. Some of the changed stories highlight class struggle and hostility toward landowners.

Professor Kim stresses that inter-Korean communication starts from recognizing each other’s differences, not by forcibly trying to make everything the same.

It’s time to recognize differences. People in Gyeongsang and Jeolla Provinces have different cultures and it can be difficult to understand the Jeju Island dialect. It is only natural that the two Koreas have evolved differently as people on the two sides have not been allowed to travel across the border and have been unable to communicate with one another for the last 72 years. The folk stories in South and North Korea have the same roots, but some of them have changed under certain circumstances. While recognizing the differences, we can still interpret the stories in the same context. That’s why we titled the book “Old Stories that the South and the North Read Together.” What we want to say is that the two Koreas share the same culture. Many people talk about restoring “homogeneity,” but we want to approach unification by recognizing differences first and restoring “commonness.”

The book is the institute’s second project to find out the differences in folk stories in South and North Korea, following the first book “Old Stories of the North That We Did Not Know” that was published in 2015. Currently, the institute is working on another interesting project aimed at introducing folk games in the two Koreas.

Young North Korean defectors in their 20s say that they played old-fashioned games that middle-aged South Koreans in their 50s had played when they were little, like hopscotch and hitting stone slabs. We have tentatively named the project “The South and the North Meet through Traditional Games.” The old games remind people of their childhood. They reminisce about happy and unhappy moments associated with the games. They recall how and why they fought with their friends and made up again. I imagine that North Korean newcomers have similar memories from the old games. Basically, we’ll introduce the culture of folk games. But we’ll also compare the memories cherished by South and North Koreans and make sure that the emotions they feel are not any different. That is, we want to talk about communication.

The projects carried out by the institute will hopefully promote inter-Korean communication and provide a solid foundation for unification.