Pressure campaign on North Korea to continue despite Kim Jong Un's charm offensive

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un (left) and the South's Moon Jae-in shake hands in the truce village of Panmunjom.
North Korea’s Kim Jong-un (left) and the South's Moon Jae-in shake hands in the truce village of Panmunjom.PHOTO: NYTIMES

SEOUL - A day after the curtain fell on a historic summit between leaders of the two Koreas, life in the North goes on as usual and could even get worse as a global "maximum pressure" campaign takes bite.

After all the pomp and pageantry of Friday's meeting, regional players including Mr Kim Jong Un's South Korean host will continue to enforce strict sanctions on Pyongyang until it gives up its nuclear and ballistic missiles arsenal.

Just hours after Mr Kim left the border truce village of Panmunjom for Pyongyang on Friday night, United States Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - the latter having met Mr Kim on a secret visit last month - said that Washington will not soften its international pressure campaign.

Japan, which has been one of the most vocal in warning the world against being hoodwinked by the North's charm offensive, said on Saturday (April 28) that it is working with partner countries to curtail illicit maritime activities such as ship-to-ship transfers of goods with North Korean-flagged vessels.

Australia and Canada are planning to deploy patrol aircraft to the Kadena Air Base in southwestern Okinawa. The US military will lead the coordination of these aircraft operations, working with Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force.

Australia's Defence Minister Marise Payne said on Saturday: "The deployment supports the international campaign to address North Korea's illicit trade and associated networks."

A British Royal Navy Frigate that arrived at the US Yokosuka Naval Base, south of Tokyo, this month will also monitor such illicit trading activity.

It is extremely rare for several non-Japanese forces to jointly operate out of Japan.

Japan has played an active role to police the seas off the Korean Peninsula - and has this year raised to the United Nations at least four instances of illegal transfers of goods between North Korean and foreign vessels out in the open sea to evade sanctions.

Seoul's hands are also tied by the stiff sanctions regime by the United Nations Security Council, given how the Panmunjom Declaration on Friday had, unlike previous agreements, not clearly stated the areas of economic or business exchanges.

The closest they came was a vow to repair and connect roads and railways that connect the two countries, and the establishment of a joint liaison office in the border city of Kaesong in North Korea, where a joint industrial complex remains shuttered since 2016 following a series of provocations by the North.

Even so, Japan's Nikkei Asian Review quoted a source from the South's Presidential Blue House as stressing: "We're not talking about doing anything right away."

Some experts see Mr Kim's trip to the South as a ploy to soften sanctions and weaken alliances. Dr Michael Green of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) told reporters last week that Beijing and Moscow might then be able to argue that pressure on Pyongyang "is an obstacle to a peace treaty".

US President Donald Trump, who may have a sit-down with Mr Kim by June, thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping in a tweet that is widely interpreted as a hint to China not to ease sanctions on Pyongyang.

Mr Trump tweeted on Friday: "Please do not forget the great help that my good friend, President Xi of China, has given to the United States, particularly at the Border of North Korea. Without him it would have been a much longer, tougher, process!"

On Saturday, after speaking with South Korean President Moon Jae In on the phone, Mr Trump said preparations were being made for the planned meeting with Mr Kim.

"Just had a long and very good talk with President Moon of South Korea. Things are going very well, time and location of meeting with North Korea is being set," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter. "Also spoke to Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe of Japan to inform him of the ongoing negotiations," he wrote.

Before Mr Kim meets with Mr Trump, however, speculation is rife that he may want a dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin to secure Moscow's support.

Russia said on Friday that it stood "ready to facilitate the establishment of practical cooperation" between the two Koreas through trilateral cooperation in sectors such as railway, electricity and gas.

Dr Gary Samore, who was involved in negotiations for the 1994 nuclear agreement between the US and North Korea, told the Asan Plenum last week: "They always start their negotiation by emphasising security assurances but somewhere along the line, you find out that this is mostly smoke and mirrors. What they really want is the material benefit - rice, cash,heavy fuel, energy, infrastructure facilities."

But Dr Victor Cha, who was formerly tipped to be Mr Trump's pick for US envoy to South Korea, reserved judgment.

He wrote in an analysis for the CSIS on Friday: "It is still unclear whether North Korea still believes that it can have its cake and eat it too (that is, keep its nuclear weapons while receiving economic and energy assistance for tension reduction)."