RoK to halt all trade with DPRK over sinking of Cheonan

According to the Washington Post:

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Monday that his country is stopping all trade and most investment with North Korea and closing its sea lanes to North Korean ships after the nation’s deadly attack on a South Korean warship.

Lee also called for a change in Pyongyang’s Stalinist regime.

The tough measures, announced in an address to his nation, were bound to ratchet up pressure on the isolated Pyongyang government and add a new flash point in U.S. relations with China.

“Fellow citizens, we have always tolerated North Korea’s brutality, time and again. We did so because we have always had a genuine longing for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” he said. “But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts.”

Lee then said that “no North Korean ship will be allowed to make passage through any of the shipping lanes in the waters under our control” and that “any inter-Korean trade or other cooperative activity is meaningless.”

A senior U.S. official, traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in China, said the United States will back “all the steps the South Koreans are going to announce.” In an indication of the seriousness with which the Obama administration views the drama between the North and South, home to nearly 29,000 U.S. troops, he added: “We have not faced something like this in decades.” Lee apparently has ruled out military action because he does not want to trigger an all-out war.

The official said that, based on talks over the past two days, Chinese officials have not accepted the results of a South Korean investigation — backed by experts from the United States, Australia, Britain and Sweden — that implicated North Korea in the attack on the 1,200-ton Cheonan that killed 46 sailors. As such, it is unclear whether Beijing will support Lee’s measures or his call, also made in the speech, to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council.

China’s reluctance to agree with the report underscores the challenges the United States faces as it seeks to forge closer ties to Beijing. The U.S. official also noted Sunday that China and the United States still do not see eye to eye on the details of planned economic sanctions on Iran for its failure to stop its nuclear enrichment program. Of specific concern, he said, are disagreements between Beijing and Washington about how investments in Iran’s oil and gas sector will be treated. China has committed to investing more than $80 billion in Iran’s energy sector; tightened sanctions against Tehran could threaten those investments.

Tough options for China

The attack and its aftermath also threaten China’s place in the region and could force it to make an unwanted choice between South Korea and North Korea — two countries that it has handled deftly since normalizing relations with Seoul in 1992. South Korea wants China, which is a permanent member of the Security Council, to back Seoul’s call to take the Cheonan issue to the council. So does the United States, the U.S. official said.

But that could risk hurting Pyongyang, and China appears committed to maintaining the North Korean regime above all.

“For China,” the U.S. official said, “they are in uncharted waters.”

China reacted slowly to the Cheonan’s sinking, waiting almost a month before offering South Korea condolences. Then it feted North Korea’s Kim in May, apparently offering him another large package of aid, Asian diplomats said. China’s attitude has enraged South Korea.

Michael Green, a national security official during George W. Bush’s administration, said the Cheonan crisis highlights just how differently China views its security needs than the rest of the players in Northeast Asia. For years, as China worked with the United States, Russia, South Korea and Japan to try to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programs, these differences were obscured. But the Cheonan’s sinking has changed that.

According to Yonhap, the Kaesong Industrial Zone will be spared from the chopping block:

South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said Monday that Seoul will still maintain the joint economic project in Kaesong despite the attack, but will “respond with resolute measures” to any bid by the communist neighbor to undermine the safety of its workers.

“If North Korea ignores our careful consideration to preserve the complex even under current circumstances, and subsequently threatens the safety of our citizens there, we will never tolerate any harm to our citizens,” Hyun said.

Hyun was speaking at a joint press briefing with the foreign and defense ministers following President Lee Myung-bak’s nationally televised speech condemning the North for the ship sinking.

Hyun was apparently referring to the half-year long detention of a South Korean worker in Kaesong last year amid deteriorating political ties between the countries.

Also according to Yonhap, some aid projects will be maintained:

Lee announced his government will suspend all trade and exchange programs with the North except for the Kaesong project, while maintaining minimum levels of humanitarian aid for infants and children living in the impoverished communist country.

“Under these circumstances, any inter-Korean trade or other cooperative activity is meaningless,” the president said, adding that North Korean ships will no longer be allowed to use South Korean waterways as short-cuts.

Yonhap reports:

A suspension of inter-Korean trade would deal a “direct blow” to North Korea by blocking its major source of hard currency needed to govern the reclusive and impoverished country, a Seoul think tank said Monday.

The state-run Korea Development Institute (KDI), however, noted in a report that such a move could fail to achieve its intended goal if other global powers like China do not agree, highlighting the importance of securing international cooperation.

“North Korea’s trade with the South has accounted for up to 38 percent of its total trade volume and makes up 13 percent of its gross domestic product. With the dollars obtained through inter-Korean trade, the North has expanded its businesses with China. It (the trade with the South) also helped Pyongyang to cushion any negative external risks such as sanctions by Japan, while acquiring dollars needed to govern the country,” the report said.

“If we push for a measure to suspend the trade, it could translate into a decline in its trade with China and make it tough to find other business partners as a result, dealing a direct blow to its regime by blocking it from obtaining dollars,” it added.

The report noted that a trade ban by the Seoul government would have a maximum level of impact if China follows suit, which it expects could place Pyongyang under a situation where “it has to think about its life or death.”

Currently, the North depends on South Korea and China for up to 80 percent of its external trade and 35 percent of its GDP, according to the report. Especially, China provides many strategically important materials such as oil to the North.

The report said that if China decides to support the North, it would reduce the overall impact but it will still destabilize its regime in the long term by making it heavily dependent on its closet ally and fast-emerging global economic power.

“It would weaken the regime’s principle not to depend solely on a single country even for its trade based on the so-called juche (self-reliance) doctrine. Also China’s support would prompt opening of the reclusive nation to outside, making it more difficult for the regime to keep its tight grip on domestic market and those who want and push for market opening,” the report said.

“In summary, a political choice by China would have some impact but in the end, a trade suspension with the South would cause a significant amount of pain to the country. We need to have to push for such an action with self-confidence if there is a consensus, while taking diverse efforts to persuade China over such a measure, while establishing an international cooperative framework with the United States and Japan as well,” it added.

Business Week (Bloomberg) reports on the impact of UN sanctions last year:

UN sanctions imposed on North Korea after its second nuclear test in May 2009 caused the North’s international commerce to shrink 9.7 percent last year, according to the Seoul-based Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency. Stripping out South Korea’s one-third share, China accounted for 78.5 percent of North Korea’s commerce, the agency said. North Korea, whose leader Kim visited China earlier this month, doesn’t release trade data.

The New York Times also has good coverage

The full text of President Lee’s speech can be found here.

All previous posts on the Cheonan are here.

Read full article here:
South Korea to halt all trade with North Korea over sinking of Cheonan warship
Washington Post
John Pomfret
5/24/2010

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3 Responses to “RoK to halt all trade with DPRK over sinking of Cheonan”

  1. […] UPDATE 20:  South Korea halts all trade with the DPRK over the Cheonan incident. […]

  2. George says:

    And in this morning’s news comes word that the DPRK has terminated whatever the RoK had left going.

    BBC is reporting:

    North Korea is to cut all relations with South Korea, Pyongyang’s official news agency reports.

    KCNA said the North was also expelling all South Korean workers from a jointly-run factory north of the border.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/asia_pacific/10156834.stm

  3. […] Monday the South Korean government announced it was severing nearly all trade relationships with the DPRK.  One notable exception to this policy was the Kaesong Industrial Zone.  Today, however, the DPRK […]