The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2375 calling for a fresh set of sanctions against North Korea on Monday, September 11, eight days after the communist nation’s sixth nuclear test. The prompt adoption of the new sanctions is interpreted as a stern message toward North Korea, which went ahead with the nuclear experiment in defiance of repeated warnings from the international community. Here is Hong Hyun-ik, senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, to explain the significance of the quick, unanimous passage of the U.N. resolution.
With North Korea nearing completion of its nuclear weapons program for actual warfare, the international community prepared another resolution to slap sanctions on the North. The strongest-ever resolution led by the U.S. includes almost all tough sanction measures that it can think of. Attention was being paid to whether the two veto powers, namely China and Russia, would accept it. Resolution 2375 was passed eventually, reflecting that the U.N. Security Council agreed on even stronger sanctions that will be effective in blocking North Korea’s foreign currency earnings more tightly. We’ll have to wait and see how Pyongyang will respond to this, but the tough measures will put significant pressure on North Korea and make it think about its behavior once again.
An earlier U.S.-written draft resolution called for a complete ban on crude oil exports to North Korea, inspection of North Korean ships in international waters, and the blacklisting of five people, including North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his sister Kim Yo-jong. But after the behind-the-scenes negotiations between the U.S. and China, the final resolution was considerably watered down from the original U.S. draft. Even so, the resolution is seen as the toughest one ever, as it is the first time that the resolution included restrictions on oil supplies, which are considered a lifeline for North Korea. While the U.S. has made the resolution the strongest one to date by targeting oil, China saved face by making the resolution fall short of a total oil embargo. The resolution imposes caps on exports of crude oil to North Korea. Under the new measures, North Korea’s annual crude oil imports will be capped at the current level of 4 million barrels. Also, the resolution places a cap of 2 million barrels a year on refined petroleum products. It represents a significant decrease from the current level of 4.5 million barrels. In addition, the resolution prohibits the nation from importing liquefied natural gas and condensates.
Initially, the U.S. pushed for a complete oil and gas embargo. If the U.S. had insisted on this to the end, China and Russia might have exercised their veto power. Other countries could also have abstained from voting. The final resolution imposes a cap on crude oil exports to North Korea to the level of the last 12 months, while reducing the North’s imports of refined petroleum products by 55 percent. The regime is also banned from importing all natural gas liquids. Overall, the restrictions are expected to cut around 30 percent of oil and related products provided to North Korea. Speaking of a ban on North Korea’s exports of coal and iron ore, China and Russia were first opposed to the move. But they later agreed on setting a quota on the amount of such trade. They even approved a total ban after North Korea pushed ahead with additional provocations. The latest resolution imposes a cap on its imports of crude oil for now, but follow-up measures might be adopted if the North launches provocations. North Korea will inevitably feel burdened. Touching on North Korea’s oil imports is the most attention-grabbing part of the latest resolution.
The draft resolution disclosed by the U.S. did mention the name of Kim Jong-un. If Kim was included in the blacklist, he would be subject to a travel ban and asset freeze. The focus of the sanctions on the North Korean leader would be placed on their symbolic significance, rather than their actual effectiveness. But Kim Jong-un and his sister Kim Yo-jong were not included in the blacklist of the final resolution. One North Korean individual and three key entities were placed on the list instead. The individual is the North’s Minister of Armed Forces Pak Yong-sik, and the entities are the core departments of the Workers’ Party, such as the Central Military Commission, the Organization and Guidance Department, and the Propaganda and Agitation Department. It is speculated that a total ban on oil supplies to North Korea and sanctions on Kim Jong-un and his sister have been saved as a final option, in consideration of the possibility of Pyongyang’s additional provocations.
It is believed that China and Russia proposed the exclusion of North Korea’s top leadership from the sanctions list, at least this time. Apparently, the two countries think that Kim Jong-un’s visit to the two nations to hold talks with Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin will be helpful for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. Also, it is difficult to find out Kim’s assets since they are hidden in secret. Even if Kim’s assets are found and he is subsequently sanctioned, North Korea would respond negatively and it may give up on the idea of negotiations altogether, only resorting to provocations. China and Russia may have raised this possibility and the U.S. is assumed to have accepted their opinion.
Under the new U.N. resolution, North Korea will be banned from exporting textiles, one of the key sources of revenue for the nation. Also, work permits for North Korean laborers overseas will not be renewed. This measure is expected to generate a similar effect of a total ban on the use of North Korean workers overseas.
North Korea has already been under strong sanctions, as it is prohibited from exporting its key export items such as coal, iron ore and seafood. Now, with the ban on textile exports, North Korea is expected to suffer annual losses of more than 800 billion won, or about 750 million US dollars. If the losses from the restrictions on the use of North Korean laborers overseas are combined, North Korea is forecast to lose one trillion won, or 900 million US dollars, in annual revenues. On the whole, 70 to 90 percent of North Korean exports will be reduced. The nation will inevitably face a drastic decrease in its foreign currency earnings.
Most agree that the success or failure of the sanctions depends on China, which is almost the only trade partner of North Korea. China has welcomed the adoption of the new U.N. resolution. China’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that North Korea pressed ahead with another nuclear test despite international concerns, and that Beijing agreed on the U.N. Security Council’s measures to respond to North Korea’s serious violation of the U.N. resolutions. Meanwhile, the People’s Bank of China told financial institutions to stop transactions with individuals and companies on the sanctions list of the U.N. Security Council, one day before the council’s vote on the new North Korea resolution. Given the timing, China seems to be demonstrating that it is actively joining sanctions on North Korea.
The U.S. Congress has recently criticized big banks in China for providing financial assistance in trade between North Korea and China, and for just watching North Korea’s illegal transactions without doing anything. That is, the U.S. is showing signs of sanctioning not only small Chinese banks but big ones as well. The Chinese authorities are very nervous about it. Amid the U.N. Security Council’s new resolution against North Korea, China seems to be showing that it is faithfully implementing some of the existing sanctions in an attempt to avoid Washington’s unilateral sanctions.
Some experts predict that the U.S. will consider a so-called “secondary boycott,” depending on North Korea’s attitude, but they are also hinting at the possibility of dialogue at the same time. Right after the U.N. vote, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said that North Korea has not passed the point of no return, indicating that the U.S. will draw the North to the negotiation table through diplomatic pressure that would isolate the nation economically.
The U.S. Congress as well as the administration is calling for imposing a secondary boycott and sanctioning big Chinese banks. If North Korea goes ahead with another provocation, the U.S. will surely implement its own sanctions. While China has voted for the resolution calling for sanctions on North Korea for now, the U.S. will watch how faithfully China may enforce them. Possible bilateral talks between the Trump administration and the Xi Jinping government, as well as North Korea’s additional provocations, may determine Washington’s future moves.
The South Korean government welcomed the new U.N. resolution and stressed that North Korea should accept international warnings and quickly take a path toward denuclearization. The international community will likely determine how it will impose sanctions on North Korea, depending on Pyongyang’s response to the recent resolution.
[Interview] Artist Explores Theme of a Divided Korea
A South Korean artist named Song Chang is holding a solo exhibition titled “Flower-Shade” at Hakgojae Gallery in Jongro-gu District, Seoul. The exhibition displays 39 artworks, including paintings, silk screen works, and installations, from the beginning of his artistic career in the early 1980s to recent works. In an installation art piece with the exhibition title “Flower-Shade,” a wooden ammunition box, shells, live bullets and artificial flowers are scattered. Song gives us more details about this work of art.
The shells and bullets displayed here were collected from a former U.S. Air Force firing range in Maehyang-ri. I placed flowers alongside them. The weapons are associated with death, and flowers, for me, are inherent in death. The artwork “Flower-Shade” expresses the reality of our society.
Song was born in Jangseong, South Jeolla-do Province in 1952, before the end of the Korean War. After graduating from college, he worked as an art teacher and expressed the dark side of industrialization in his paintings. While seeing and drawing some social problems, he began to ponder the history of his home country and squarely faced the issue of national division.
Many people ask me if I or my parents came from North Korea. I wouldn’t say my hometown or my childhood was totally unrelated to national division. In fact, any place in South Korea, even a small, remote island, has something to do with division, which has taken deep root in Koreans’ lives. A divided Korea has led our social structure in a rather unreasonable way. I wondered how I could set my direction as an artist and what would be the most important thing in capturing the spirit of the 70’s and the ‘80s. I chose the theme “division.”
Song has been drawing the landscape of a divided Korea for the last 30 years. In recent years, he has been using flowers—artificial flowers, to be more exact—for his works. In 2010, he happened to see discarded fake flowers at a crematorium for U.N. soldiers killed during the Korean War at Yeoncheon, north of Seoul. For Song, a flower means death and also was a symbol of condolences for fallen soldiers in the tragic war.
I pick up fake flowers that were once used but later thrown away at cemeteries. I clean, dry and keep them for later use. Flowers are used on joyful occasions, but they are also used for colorfully decorated biers, which represented the highest level of courtesy for the deceased in the past. People would decorate these stands with beautiful paper flowers and burn the flowers later, in the hopes that the souls of the dead would ascend to heaven. The deceased’s loved ones would also send wishes through the flowers. For me, division means death. How could I express death in my paintings? It should be something dark, strong and composed. As a message to deliver the meanings, I chose flowers.
The artist spends every free moment collecting abandoned artificial flowers at cemeteries and sticks them on the canvas. An artwork titled “Dream” was created in this way. The huge, 4-meter-wide piece depicts a scene in Namgye-ri in Yeoncheon County, where a fierce battle took place during the Korean War. There is black smoke rising, against the background of a blood-red sky. Pillar-shaped cliffs formed by the cooling of lava and a broken bridge, as if it was bombarded, seem to depict the destructive nature of war. The windblown flowers on the river bed under the bridge add extra detail to the stunning painting.
The Imjin-gang River and the Hantan-gang River were formed by volcano eruptions a long time ago, with pillar-shaped cliffs developed on both sides. The Imjin-gang River is beautiful all year round. One day, construction began to build a bridge over the river. I worked on this piece, desperately hoping to see the completion of the bridge. I finished the work in 2014, when relations between South and North Korea were almost deadlocked. The two sides were approaching each other, ready to meet. If they had met, the bridge would have been completed. I thought we could even travel to Europe by train via North Korea. We had high hopes, which turned out to be a mere dream. It broke my heart thinking that the dream would never be realized. But I want to have these hopes once again.
The artist has been planting flowers in bleak and desolate scenes symbolizing the war, such as tombstones at the crematorium for U.N. soldiers, a rusty railroad, and heavy tanks. Through the flowers that will never wither away even in the gloomy scenes, the artist wishes to heal the painful scars of war. His hopes are delivered to the visitors of the exhibition.
The flowers are in stark contrast to the traces of war. Even in the ravages of war or in the harsh reality of national division, we can still find hope. I think the flowers symbolize that. As a whole, I feel a grim but warm atmosphere here.
What does “division” mean to the artist, who has drawn paintings with this particular theme for the last three decades? For him, a divided Korea is a stark reality he faces now. That’s why he has to continue to work on this theme until Korea is unified.
Many artists in the next generation will stick to the theme of division until Korea achieves unification. I wish everything will make progress through culture. Some other artists, not me, may contribute to fulfilling that goal, but that doesn’t matter. Even before unification, I think it is necessary for South and North Korea to engage in cultural exchanges, which I believe can tear down the wall of division. After unification, people in both South and North Korea will interact naturally and frequently. But I hope the two sides will conduct various exchanges now in order to bring about a change, though only in a small way.
We hope the flowers on the canvas will help heal the wounds of war and console the forgotten people who perished during the war.