Opinion: Are international relations shifting in the east?

North Korea's Kim Jong Un and a Delegation of the Communist Party of China on an official goodwill visit in 2015. (Reuters/KCNA)

North Korea's Kim Jong Un and a Delegation of the Communist Party of China on an official goodwill visit in 2015. (Reuters/KCNA)

North Korea’s biggest international supporter, China, is slowly turning its back on the country. The rogue nation, whose increasing missile tests and verbal threats in recent months, has garnered many economic and political punishments worldwide. After testing its sixth, and most powerful nuclear missile, the UN Security Council imposed new sanctions on the country, part of which required China to act.

 

In accordance with the sanctions, China decreased oil exports to North Korea and banned imports of textile. China further informed companies operating within Chinese boarders, owned or jointly owned by North Korea, that they would be forced to shut down by the end of the year. Such companies increase trade and income to North Korea and represent one of the largest economic blows dealt thus far. Mostly centered around Dandong, a Chinese city on the border, “hundreds” of companies have reported receiving the notice.

As reported by “Financial Times” Dr. Kim Byung-yeon of Seoul National University, “if UN sanctions are properly enforced, 80-90 percent of North Korean exports will decline”. While this number is a best-case scenario, as there are likely many front companies that operate without China’s knowledge, the policy will undoubtedly have an impact on the North Korean regime as China accounts for 90 percent of all current trade.

Economic punishment is not the only benefit coming from this move. Possibly even more important, these sanctions emphasize China’s commitment to take a more adamant stance against North Korean president Kim Jong-un. Previously accused of being lax toward the regime and complacent in its activity, hopefully this marks permanent change in China’s activities. While China has been vocally against the recent nuclear tests and earlier slashed coal, seafood and iron trade, these recent restrictions represent a striking shift in rhetoric.

Not all recent news regarding North Korea is good, however. Though North Korea does not allow citizens free access to the internet, there still exists connection in the isolated country. In fact, government officials use the internet readily to gather intelligence and often stage massive cyber-attacks against other nations. Internet access is one of the most important tools in their arsenal and many particularly damaging attacks, including those against national banking system and private companies, such as Sony, have been attributed to North Korea. There are even speculations that the infamous hack group, Lazarus, is North Korean in origin.

The hermit nation largely does not have the infrastructure to produce its own internet connection but instead relies solely on China, or at least until recently. TransTeleCom, a Russian telecommunications company, has started a secondary internet connection to the North. Speculation points to recent cyberattacks by the United States in a hope to cripple North Korean internet connection have led Kim Jong-un to implement a redundant system that safeguards against such a scenario. If China does decide to cut off the internet connection with North Korea, then the Russian connection still exists.

Whatever motives exist, the reality that Russia and North Korea are even more tightly connected than before has not lost its impact. At a time where US-Russian relations are already tense, any aggression the US makes against North Korea could be viewed as an aggression toward both nations.

It makes international relations and regulations against a rogue nation very touchy when two of the largest and most powerful countries are on its side. We must be hopeful that through Kim Jong-un’s radical actions and rhetoric, both China and Russia will come to realize that supporting the country brings us all closer to war. It is in the world’s best interest to facilitate this conclusion.


David Csordas is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at david.csordas@uconn.edu.