More sanctions will only hurt the North Korean people

Having pushed forward with its fourth
nuclear test, if North Korea faces greater pressure and financial sanctions
from the international community, it may lead to undesired long-term
consequences for the leadership, as this would ignite people’s anger towards
Kim Jong Un. In the event that Chinese imports, which make up a very
significant part of people’s daily lives, are cut off due to punitive measures
from the international community, it could spell trouble for the leadership. 

The North’s nuclear test this time will
likely be cause for much stronger sanctions and, unlike before, China may
spearhead these efforts given its adverse reaction to the development of a
hydrogen bomb.

“China won’t completely cut off its
support, but the supply system could become more limited,” Jeung Young Tae,
senior research fellow at Korea Institute for National Unification [KINU], told
Daily NK. “If that happens, people who are scraping by in the markets will
think the nuclear test has caused nothing but losses for them and reduce their
trust in Kim Jong Un.”

However, some experts believe regardless of
how icy relations get with Beijing, Kim Jong Un may not necessarily see it as a
loss on his part. The nuclear test would have been conducted with expectations
of greater sanctions, and if that is the case, he will not be too concerned of
outside pressure unless it comes in the form of a direct attack.

This is why analysts believe it is likely
that financial sanctions will hurt the North Korean economy to some degree, but its people
will be left to bear the brunt and Kim Jong Un’s ‘nuclear obsession’ will
emerge unscathed.

“North Korea’s dependence on China is
significant, so even if Beijing doesn’t carry out any drastic punitive
measures, the impact on the North could be severe,” Kim Young Hwan, senior
researcher at the Network for North Korean Human Rights and Democracy, said.
“In terms of North Korea-China relations, I think the disadvantages for
Pyongyang will be serious but that perhaps Kim Jong Un has underestimated this.”

Lee Choon Kun, adjunct professor at Ewha
Womans (sic) University , asserted the
recent test indicates just how futile past efforts have been in getting
Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program. “What kind of strong sanctions has
the international community managed to impose on North Korea’s nuclear tests?”
he said. 

“Even with the six-party talks having run so long in the past, the
North is still conducting its nuclear tests. If the international community had
managed to properly enforce these sanctions, it wouldn’t be able to bring out
its nuclear program like this each time,” Lee pointed out.

Experts speculate that all things
considered, Kim Jong Un will not concern himself with the trouble this may cause
for his people but continue to push forward to win over recognition as a
nuclear state.

They also believe with relations frosting
over again with Beijing, due to the sudden cancellation of a performance by
Pyongyang’s popular Moranbong Band in China, the North may have determined
there would be more to gain by showing off military might rather than waiting
for ties to improve again with China.

“With this nuclear test, the North has
already secured accomplishments for its 7th Party Congress coming up in May,
and down the line, it may try to step up its negotiating power with other
countries using its nuclear strength,” head of Korea Defense Network, Shin In
Kyoon, said. “This nuclear test was conducted with the U.S. and China in mind,
and it can be used effectively for domestic politics as well down the line,” he

Jeung from KINU added the recent test could
very well be Kim’s effort to generate ‘noise’ and win over recognition for his
leadership from both those within and outside of the country. “The fact that he
has put forward the hydrogen test, which is considered the apex of nuclear
development, could be his way of showing that he has transitioned from a young
and inexperienced leader to one who is ready both on the military and political
front,” Jeung explained.

“At least in the short-run, North Koreans
may at least have faith in the fact that the young leader did not buckle under
external pressure and succeeded in developing nuclear weapons.”