Trump orders new sanctions against N. Korea

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had signed an executive order that would allow the United States to ramp up sanctions on North Korean firms in an effort to dissuade Pyongyang from pursuing its nuclear missile program.
President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York, on Sept 19, 2017.
President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York, on Sept 19, 2017. PHOTO: NYTIMES

US President Donald Trump announced new sanctions against North Korea yesterday (early today Singapore time) and confirmed that China's central bank has ordered Chinese banks to stop doing business with Pyongyang.

"Our new executive order will cut off sources of revenue that fund North Korea's efforts to develop the deadliest weapons known to humankind," he told reporters ahead of a luncheon meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae In and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the United Nations in New York.

"This is a complete denuclearisation that we seek," said Mr Trump.

He added that North Korea's textiles, fishing, IT and manufacturing industries were among those the US could target.

The new executive order will target individuals and companies that trade with North Korea and gives the US Treasury discretion to sanction foreign banks that conduct transactions tied to trade with the North, he said.

Mr Trump said the new order targeted only North Korea and said it was unacceptable that entities financially support that country's regime.

China's decision, which Mr Trump described as "very bold" and "unexpected," was not immediately confirmed by Beijing but if true, could cut a vital source of foreign currency for North Korea.

Despite the increasingly tougher tone towards the North, Mr Trump, when asked if dialogue was still possible with Pyongyang, said: "Why not?"

The sanctions are the latest aimed at forcing North Korea to fully abandon its nuclear programme and fit calls for tougher action by Mr Trump and Mr Abe.

In his address to the UN General Assembly yesterday, Mr Abe expressed exasperation with years of diplomatic efforts to convince the North to abandon its nuclear and missile programmes. Urging a global blockade, he said efforts by the global community since 1994 to engage in diplomacy with the North had come to nought.

"Over the more than 20 years since the end of the Cold War, where and when else, and to which dictators, have we allowed such self-indulgence?" he asked.

"For North Korea, dialogue was instead the best means of deceiving us and buying time," he added, stressing support for the US' position that all options - including military ones - are on the table. "In what hopes of success are we now repeating the very same failure a third time?"

During his address to the UN on Wednesday, Mr Trump said the US, if threatened, would "totally destroy" North Korea and mocked its leader Kim Jong Un as a "rocket man".

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, who is slated to address the UN today, said, using an expression that in Korean means a meaningless fantasy: "If he was thinking he could scare us with the sound of a dog barking, that's really a dog's dream."

Dr Bonji Ohara, a former military officer now with Tokyo think-tank Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF), told The Straits Times: "Mr Abe's point was that pressure, in the form of sanctions and other measures, is necessary to convince the North Korean regime that the international community will no longer put up with deceptions."

But that indicates a rift among the nations involved in the six-party talks that collapsed in 2008 after the North pulled out, SPF researcher Tsuneo Watanabe noted. China and Russia, though supportive of UN sanctions, are hesitant to pull their full weight given their own political calculations as the US, Japan and South Korea continue to call on them to do more.

The risk, he said, is that it could take a drastic move by North Korea to force the hand of the other five nations towards a consensus.

Kobe University security expert Tosh Minohara said Mr Abe's UN message belies a conundrum: "Dialogue doesn't solve problems, but Tokyo hasn't really given any solutions other than more sanctions.

"As more sanctions push North Korea to the brink, Japan needs to also realise that Mr Kim can retaliate in a stronger way."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2017, with the headline 'Trump orders new sanctions against N. Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe