North Korea missile threat has lawmakers pushing China sanctions
North Korea’s threat to restart missile testing has American lawmakers looking for new ways to pressure the regime without risking the major conflict that had world leaders on high alert in 2017.
“This damn game's gone on for ... 30 years, and it's gotten more severe,” Ted Yoho, R-Fla., a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Washington Examiner. “And then we've got to worry about what China and Russia will do if there is a conflict.”
Yoho wants to intensify economic pressure on North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un by targeting his international patrons, including major financial institutions in neighboring China. Imposing sanctions on such banks would anger officials in Beijing just as President Trump is trying to resolve a trade war with China, but North Korea’s hardline posture has convinced Yoho that it’s necessary.
“China and Russia have been complicit in not enforcing the sanctions, and so we are going after more sanctions on them to hopefully put more pressure on North Korea,” said Yoho, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs subcommittee for the Asia-Pacific. “China and Russia, they don't want a solution on that peninsula because it keeps us distracted.”
Yoho and California Rep. Brad Sherman, the top Democrat on the Asia-Pacific subcommittee, have long worried that Trump isn’t doing enough to cut China’s economic lifelines to North Korea. They’re renewing their call for Trump to impose sanctions on major Chinese banks that work with the regime, in addition to dozens of shell companies in Hong Kong that launder money for the North Koreans.
“We're looking at the Agriculture Bank of China and the Chinese Construction Bank, and then continually crackdown on anybody that's filtering money through these other places like Hong Kong, [through] shell companies, and just bust them,” Yoho told the Washington Examiner.
Yoho proposed that idea to Trump’s team after the collapse of the February summit in Hanoi, when Kim demanded sanctions relief in exchange for minimal limitations on his nuclear program. The administration tapped the brakes, he said, while awaiting Kim’s next move. A senior North Korean official raised the specter of new missile tests last week, although U.S. officials aren’t certain the country will take that step.
Yoho suspects that North Korea is “posturing” in advance of additional talks, but the latest rhetoric comes amid signs of activity at a key missile test site.
“I think it's a credible threat,” Oriana Skylar Mastro, a Georgetown University professor and China expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Washington Examiner. “They would have to implement it in a certain timeline. As weeks or months pass, it becomes less and less credible if they hold on to that moratorium.”
“At this point, it is important that neither side overreact,” Bruce Klingner, a former CIA official who is a now a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told the Washington Examiner. “Washington should communicate privately to Pyongyang that it remains open to follow-on negotiations, that escalation is counter-productive, and a nuclear or missile test — including a so-called space launch vehicle — would greatly exacerbate tensions.”
Additional missile tests would make North Korea confident that it could consistently deliver nuclear warheads to the United States in the event of a conflict. “Without further testing, it's not reliable,” Mastro explained. “Once they've clearly demonstrated the capability, then the strategic calculus for the United States, for [South] Korea, for Japan, all have to shift.”
Yoho believes it would be "a big mistake” for Kim to test another intercontinental ballistic missile. “We don't want to get into another [round of] threatening rhetoric and fire and fury, it's just Kim Jong Un needs to know this president is very serious about what he said and he will follow through,” the congressman said. "The way he follows through is going to be determined by what Kim Jong Un does.”