The Winter Olympics draw to a close and North Korea’s political theatre is wrapping itself up. The symbolic gestures may be a decent start, but sooner or later, reality hits with a bump. Trump provided that bump with the largest raft of sanctions against Kim Jong-un and his country. After a hard week of pretending to be sympathetic to survivors of the latest school shooting, Trump decided to turn to something he’s actually good at, namely making threats to North Korea.
Under the new sanctions, which are being discussed and examined by the US Treasury, up to twenty-seven separate entities and twenty-eight vessels which are either registered or flagged in different countries including China and Singapore will be placed under new sanctions. The list also includes up to sixteen shipping companies in North Korea along with nine international shipping companies.
The new sanctions are designed to continue the economic warfare against North Korea, fuelled by reports that many vessels and companies were sanction-busting, providing North Korea with vital fuel and supplies via ship-to-ship transfers which are prohibited under the United Nations. Clearly, Trump continues to hold a grudge and is not fooled by the largely symbolic gestures of the Winter Olympics. He is also hopeful that he can gain another foreign policy victory at a time when he desperately needs to distract the nations from students activists spooking the NRA.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Trump policy without the whiff of hypocrisy or the odd hiccup along the way. As popular as the sanctions will be, some analysts believe that North Korea might be ready to negotiate now. True, the Winter Olympics was a good deal of diplomatic theatre, but it shows that North Korea might be willing to unbend itself. From the original Olympic Games held in Greece to ‘ping-pong diplomacy’, sports has a way of bringing people together and helping relations thaw out. It might be possible for both North and South to come to the table and discuss. If there is a chance for a thaw, it should be encouraged, not stamped on.
Then there’s the announcement itself which came at the end of what most are calling a free-wheeling, rambling speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. It was right back to Trump the candidate, hitting all the familiar notes and carrying the same divisive messages as before. The sanctions raised a roar, no doubt, but it seems a bit strange to wait eighty minutes before mentioning them in a 90-minute speech.
And then there’s Russia. Despite the fact that Russian ships were involved and Russian entities had a hand in the sanction-busting, it will surprise precisely no one to find that not a single Russian ship or entity appeared on the new measures. The administration made it clear that Russians had been targeted before and could be again, but it raises the uncomfortable question of whether Trump is being soft on Russia.
Then again, it seems foolish to ask such a question! Why would Trump try to punish the country that helped him win the election? There’s a reason why the Russian sanctions still haven’t been signed despite a vast majority in favor of them being implemented. You don’t slap your best friend in the face for helping you win. That’s just crazy! No, just punish North Korea instead and hope no one notices the hypocrisy.
Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump is heading to the final day of the Winter Olympics to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to talk about the new sanctions and possibly the idea of North Korea negotiating with their neighbors. It’ll be interesting to see if Ivanka can do better than her husband and bring peace to a volatile region that is primed to explode at any moment. Ivanka probably thinks she’s done it already by just arriving in South Korea.
The reality is, the region is still tense and straining under the threat of war. Will tensions mount again or is the thaw set to last? As the Games come to a close, reality will start to set in for all the players involved in the Korean Peninsula.