US strengthens North Korea trade threat as South Korea deploys missile system

The controversial Thaad system is brought in as China holds air warfare exercises and US treasury secretary issues threat to countries choosing to trade with Pyongyang

7 September 2017, 1:43pm
Kim Jong-un's personal assets are being targeted by the US draft resolution. Photo: The Atlantic
Kim Jong-un's personal assets are being targeted by the US draft resolution. Photo: The Atlantic

Dozens of South Korean protesters have been injured in clashes with the police over full deployment of a controversial US missile defence system, intended to counter attacks from North Korea.

According to South Korean media, 38 people, including 6 police officers were injured in Seongju, a village about 300km south of Seoul, as preparations were made to install four further terminal high-altitude area defence (Thaad) system batteries at a golf course.

The morning protests began as the US threatened to impose sanctions on countries that trade with the North ahead of a crucial meeting of the UN security council, to discuss new measures against the regime.

US Prime Minister Donald Trump, along with Japanese Prime Miniuster Shinzo Abe and South Korean president Moon Jae-in, are pushing for an oil embargo against Pyongyang, a measure that has been opposed by both Russia and China.

Steve Mnuchin, the US treasury secretary, said that if the UN security council failed to agree on additional sanctions when it meets on Monday, he had an executive order direct from Donald Trump to sign, that would impose sanctions on any country that trades with North Korea.

“I have an executive order prepared. It’s ready to go to the president. It will authorise me to stop doing trade, and put sanctions on anybody that does trade with North Korea. The president will consider that at the appropriate time once he gives the UN time to act,” Mnuchin said.

Moon Jae-in approved the full deployment of the Thaad system this week in the wake of the detonation of the nuclear device on Sunday, drawing widespread condemnation and calls for stricter UN sanctions.

Police officers were sent to Seongju to protect the system, situated in a place where similar crashes had occurred, when the first two Thaad batteries were deployed back in April.

A local police officer was quoted as saying that most of the demonstrators had been dispersed and that the launchers and other equipment was driven on-site.

Protests in Seongju occurred as Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, told Trump that the escalating crisis on the Korean peninsula has to be resolved by means of dialogue.

Xi told Trump in a phone call early on Thursday that he was “deeply concerned over the on-going situation on the Korean peninsula and attaches importance to China’s essential role in resolving the issue”, according to a readout by official Chinese news agency Xinhua.

When asked if he was considering military action against North Korea, Trump said: “Certainly that’s not our first choice, but we will see what happens.”

Despite a shared sense of alarm at the speed with which North Korea appears to be getting close to its goal of developing missiles capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to the US, members of the UN security council are divided over their response.

In a draft of a resolution due to be put to a vote on Monday, the US called on countries to impose an oil embargo on North Korea. A leaked copy of the draft includes demands for a ban on gas supplies and an end to textile imports and payments to North Koreans working overseas. They are also designed to strike at the centre of the regime, with a proposed freeze on Kim Jong-un’s assets, as well as those of the ruling worker’s party.

The resolution also calls for Kim to be added to a UN sanctions blacklist, which would subject him to a global travel ban, alongside another 4 North Korean nationals. The country’s airline, Air Koryo, in this case, would be hit by an assets freeze along with the Korean People’s Army and 8 other groups, all linked to the government, the military and the ruling party.

China, however, the largest exporter of crude oil to Pyongyang is expected to oppose an oil embargo or any other move that could disrupt North Korea, in fears that a collapse of the regime may bring about a refugee crisis and thus allow thousands of US troops based in South Korea to move through to China’s border with the North.

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, is also expected to oppose the oil embargo as he is urging other countries not to “give in to emotions and push Pyongyang into a corner”. In a response to a plea from Moon to support the oil embargo, Putin claimed that depriving North Korea of oil would be destructive for the North Korean public as it would leave hospitals and other public services without fuel.

Instead, Russia and China have called for a “freeze-for-freeze” solution, which would suspend North Korean nuclear and missile tests in exchange for the US and South Korea stopping joint military exercises, which Pyongyang believes are rehearsals for invasion.

This proposal was rejected by the Trump administration, insisting that the drills are essential in response to provocations made by North Korea, including a threat to launch missiles near Guam.

The China Daily proceeded to accuse the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, of being “narrow-minded and undiplomatic”, for rejecting the proposal put forward by China and Russia.

Haley’s call for new sanctions, “could lead to an enormous humanitarian disaster in North Korea, hurting millions of women and children and innocent people” said the newspaper, in an editorial.