WaPo: Trump’s Asia team leans toward sanctioning N. Korea’s Chinese enablers

For now, this is mostly leaks and whispers in a Josh Rogin column, but it’s encouraging.

Behind the scenes, however, the Trump transition is preparing its own pivot to Asia. As the team that will implement that policy takes shape, what’s emerging is an approach that harkens back to past Republican administrations — but also seeks to actualize the Obama administration’s ambition of enhancing the U.S. presence in the region. Transition officials say the Trump administration will take a hawkish view of China, focus on bolstering regional alliances, have a renewed interest in Taiwan, be skeptical of engagement with North Korea and bolster the U.S. Navy’s fleet presence in the Pacific. [….]

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are advancing quickly, and Trump has pledged to stop them. His team is considering secondary sanctions that would apply to companies that aid Kim Jong Un’s regime, which would create another point of tension with China. The details of several of the policies are not yet fleshed out. [Josh Rogin, WaPo]

Victor Cha, who cited this humble blog in congressional testimony recently to support the point that our North Korea sanctions are far weaker than frequently described, is among those under consideration for a senior post in the team. An op-ed Cha co-wrote with Robert Gallucci in the New York Times (a key passage of which is archived here, if you’re not a subscriber) also calls for increasing secondary financial sanctions against North Korea and emphasizing its crimes against humanity by citing the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s report. Obviously, I won’t argue with the soundness of those ideas, and I’d like to see both of them become parts of our North Korea policy.

Of course, I’ve read rumors for years that various administrations have been considering those strategies; I’ve yet to see any of them actually pursue them. And even today, I seldom disagree with what Chris Hill* writes in his op-eds, but the policy he executed was so disastrous that the distrust he created still lingers — between the U.S. and Japan, between Congress and the State Department, and between the State Department and the Treasury Department. You can even lay some of the blame for the failure of U.N. sanctions on Hill. (* Update: I have no information that Hill is under consideration for any policy post, I’m only using him as an example.)

Admittedly, policy is easier to blog about in the abstract than it is to execute in a complex world of conflicting and shifting interests. And arguably, the decision to accept the cost of some broken china to disarm North Korea is the easy one. The hard questions are about how we would use the pressure sanctions are meant to create. What strategy are sanctions meant to serve? How precisely can we target sanctions to serve that strategy and mitigate harm to the North Korean people? Are we willing to keep pursuing sanctions if the regime starts to break apart, or if South Korea veers left? When will our leverage be sufficient to restart talks, and how will we know when that time comes? Exactly what sanctions relief would we be willing to grant for what concessions? Would we grant limited sanctions relief before achieving all of our objectives and without throwing away our leverage, and how can we do that? I’ve had some thoughts on those questions.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the post. I wonder to what extent the Trump administration will also keep up the pressure on North Korea on the human rights front, or be willing to confront Chinese counterparts on topics regarding mistreatment, hukou discrimination, imprisonment, and/or refoulement of North Korean refugees, issues which this blog has so thoroughly discussed over the past years. At a recent event at the Bush Library, Senator Lieberman said keeping up the human rights pressure would be logical under Trump, but is far from a fait accompli. I assume you agree that if Cha’s name is genuinely in the mix (and we aren’t also just being misled for PR purposes, a la the Romney fiasco) there is presumably a better chance of that pressure being kept up.

    Incidentally, is anyone who advocates immediate negotiations with DPRK suggesting that a Trump administration could actually get the North Koreans one step closer to nuclear compromise or the longed-for panacea of a peace treaty by watering down the North Korean Human Rights Act (HR 4011, 2004) or dropping human rights pressure altogether? That is how I read the North Korean statements, anyway — they don’t hammer at it and say it’s going to tear down their social system for nothing, and the US/UN has succeeded in now adding it to the mix of pressure points.

    I look forward to more of your writing about secondary sanctions and what old Rex Tillerson (who Joe S. of MSNBC salivates will be ‘tremendously impressive’ in his formal debut tomorrow) has to say about the subject, and if he’s got any room in his binders full of whatever for Bob King, or Justice Michael Kirby for that matter.

    [Posted for Adam by Joshua]




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