■ Will Kim Jong-un give up his nuclear weapons?
It is clear that the North Korean economy has been hit hard by the sanctions of the international community. The decrease in foreign exchange earnings has also hindered the import of necessary goods and manufacturing materials. Compared to last year, imports from China in February, March, and April have decreased by 32%, 56%, and 44% respectively. (Table 1)
As mentioned before, oil imports have already been limited and imports of industrial machinery and transport vehicles have been banned entirely. If the Kim Jong-un regime conducts additional nuclear and missile tests, the next sanctions are likely to be an oil embargo and a U.S.-led maritime blockade. This would render the North Korean economy unsustainable. It would be the end of the Kim Jong-un regime.
What is noteworthy is whether economic sanctions have the power to make North Korea stop developing and completely abandon nuclear weapons and missiles or if they will simply create a difficult situation that the Kim Jong-un regime will be able to endure for a while.
Thae Yong-ho, North Korea’s former ambassador to the U.K. who defected to South Korea in July 2016, made the following remarks at a 2016 year-end press conference. This was before the economic sanctions were strengthened.
"Kim Jong-un created a timeline for the completion of nuclear weapons. North Korea’s overseas diplomatic offices received notice that the nuclear weapons and missiles will be completed by the end of 2017, and North Korea will then engage in dialogue as a nuclear power.”
Thae’s explanation was surprisingly accurate in many areas. North Korea diverted all efforts into developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. In 2017, it carried out 17 large- and small-scale missile launch tests and its sixth nuclear test in September. At the end of November, North Korea declared itself as a nuclear power. Since then, starting with its participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, North Korea turned to dialogue and peace and, with the support of the Moon Jae-in administration, held a summit with the United States.
It should be noted that North Korea’s change in attitude this year was not due to Kim Jong-un’s sudden change of heart, but was part of a pre-established strategy to move away from a phase of tension and transition to a state of dialogue.
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