New tip line rolled out . . .
The U.S. State Department announced a new program yesterday that offers up to C$6.5 million for information that helps disrupt North Korea’s illicit economic activity, such as money laundering, cybercrimes, weapons proliferation, and evasion of international sanctions. The program adds to the deepening uncertainty about how Pyongyang will respond to the changing of the guard in Washington. If history is any guide, we should expect a provocative weapons test in the early weeks of the Biden Administration. However, intelligence sources from South Korea suggested recently that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be taking a wait-and-see approach in hopes that there may be an opening for resuming dialogue.
Backed into a dark corner . . .
As some experts note, an unintended consequence of sanctioning North Korea for its nuclear weapons activity has been to drive it further into the “dark corners” of the global economy. These activities are unlikely to subside, especially as its economy comes under increasing strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pyongyang acted early in sealing off its border with China, but at a steep cost. Before COVID-19, it sold 60 per cent of its exports to China, and 95 per cent of its imports came from China. Since February, that trade has dropped about 75 per cent. Meanwhile, North Korea has been hit hard by recent typhoons and flooding. This grim economic picture could push Pyongyang further into the “dark corners,” or, more optimistically, it could nudge it in the direction of dialogue with the U.S.
Stirring things up . . .
It remains to be seen whether the incoming Biden Administration will keep or scrap the new “Rewards for Justice” program, which seems equally aimed at China for its alleged actions in helping North Korea evade the full impact of sanctions. With just seven weeks left in its term, the Trump Administration’s motivations for launching this eleventh-hour initiative are not totally clear. There are some suggestions that the Trump team is using its remaining time in office to ramp up the “maximum pressure” campaign against enemies, and possibly complicating its successors’ chances of a diplomatic win.
- Council on Foreign Relations: What to know about sanctions on North Korea
- The Diplomat: Typhoons and human insecurity in North Korea
- Washington Post: Trump Administration launches rewards program targeting North Korea and China