North Korea’s leader to ride out hit of sanctions

By Christine Kim, Reuters

SEOUL — Fresh U.N. sanctions are unlikely to halt North Korea’s nuclear program given that seven years of previous measures from the world body and more than 50 years of U.S. penalties have failed to dissuade North Korea from trying to develop banned weapons. Under new leader Kim Jong Un, the North has pursued its nuclear program even more aggressively, experts in Seoul said. The 30-year old Kim, in power for just over a year, also seems more willing to shun China, his sole powerful backer, than his father Kim Jong Il was, one of the experts said. The U.N. Security Council is set to agree another round of sanctions against North Korea later on Thursday in response to Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test on Feb. 12, bringing the measures more into line with a tough regime imposed on Iran.

The nuclear test was Pyongyang’s third since 2006. It followed a long-range rocket launch in December. Both tests showed the North had made progress in developing a missile with a test range of 10,000 km (6,200 miles) and miniaturizing a nuclear warhead for it. “They will never give up their (nuclear) intercontinental ballistic missile plans. Their stance on this is very firm,” said Kim Yeon-su, professor of the department of security policy studies at the National Defense University in Seoul. North Korea has used its nuclear program vigorously since Kim Jong Il’s regime as leverage to bully the international community for money, resources and aid. His son, Kim Jong Un, took little time to continue his father’s ambitions, launching a long-range missile just months after the elder Kim died. China backed the U.S.-led push for the new round of sanctions in the United Nations. It has also supported previous efforts and stood behind condemnations of the North Korean long-range rocket launch in December which breached U.N. rules. Kim from the National Defense University said recent ties between North Korea and China had been fragile. He noted there had been a lack of visits to North Korea from senior Chinese officials since the missile launch in December — a contrast to the usual interaction seen during the days of Kim Jong Il. A Chinese politburo member was also snubbed by Kim Jong Un on a trip to Pyongyang ahead of the December rocket launch and Beijing summoned the North Korean envoy after the nuclear test to express its “strong dissatisfaction” over the test. Despite the warning from Beijing, North Korea has told China it is ready to push ahead with a fourth and even a fifth test, a top official with direct access to both capitals told Reuters in February.

“Compared to his father … Kim Jong Un seems to be charting his own path when it comes to China,” said Kim at Seoul’s National Defence University.