SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — The United States, South Korea, and Japan are imposing new sanctions on individuals and companies that facilitate North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, following Pyongyang’s failed launch of a spy satellite last week – the second attempt this year.
The move also came after North Korea’s military exercise that rehearsed occupying all South Korea territory and a tactical nuclear strike drill earlier this week.
South Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said Friday it has sanctioned North Korea’s Ryu Kyong Program Development Company and five individuals associated with that firm, including its chief, Ryu Kyong-chol, and four others from branch offices in China.
South Korea was the first country to sanction the named individuals and the company, according to the ministry, for activities that include helping North Korea to develop satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Japan’s foreign ministry said Friday it has imposed sanctions on three groups and four individuals involved in North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.
Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary, Matsuno Hirokazu, told reporters after a Cabinet meeting his government would continue to seek North Korea’s denuclearization and closely coordinate with the United States and South Korea.
In Washington, the U.S. Treasury Department Thursday targeted two individuals and one entity, Russia-based Jon Jin Yong, Sergey Mikhaylovich Kozlov, and Intellekt LLC in a separate sanctions announcement.
They were cited for involvement in “generating revenue for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) unlawful development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missiles.” DPRK is the abbreviation for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The three countries pledged to continue working with allies to counter North Korea’s destabilizing activities, citing its use of ballistic missile technology as a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
North Korea watchers alarmed
Some analysts warned North Korea’s missile launches in recent months indicated significant technological advancement.
In July, North Korea successfully tested its newest intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-18. It marked North Korea’s second solid-propellant ICBM launch following its first test-firing on April 13.
“A solid propellant rocket can be moved around as an individual missile, it doesn’t need any support vehicles. It could be launched in less than a minute probably. So even if you have found it and might be tracking it, you may not be able to destroy it [in time],” said Theodore Postol, professor emeritus of science, technology, and national security policy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“This is a very reliable means for attacking the United States or Europe,” Postol told VOA.
But how did North Korea make such a significant breakthrough?
Go Myong-Hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a Seoul-based think tank, said many experts suspect North Korea received the solid-fueled propellant technology from a third party.
“North Korea is a resource poor country. And there are other things North Korea would need to use the time, resources, or the manpower to reinvent. Regarding the solid-fueled rocket engine, there’s no need for North Korea to reinvent the wheel,” he told VOA on Friday.
“The examination and analysis about open-source data show that there’s a lot of commonalities between North Korean missiles and the Russian systems, especially Hwasong-18,” Go said.
US, South Korea, Japan in solidarity
On Aug. 18, the U.S., South Korea, and Japan issued “Camp David Principles” after their leaders’ first trilateral summit, where the three allies said they “stand united” in commitment to the complete denuclearization of North Korea under the U.N. Security Council resolutions, but “remain committed to dialogue with the DPRK with no preconditions.”
Cooperation among the three countries can be very effective in preventing illegal money flowing into North Korea, according to regional experts.
Seoul-based Park Won-gon who is the director of Institute of Unification Studies at Ewha Womans University told VOA that South Korea and the United States have made significant progress over the past years in “preventing DPRK from cashing in through its IT personnel, cryptocurrency and illegal hacking.”
“This is indeed [North Korea leader] Kim Jong-un’s money to govern,” said Park Won-gon. “If the money to govern is interrupted, North Korea will have less money to spend on its nuclear and missile programs and overall economy, which could be the motivation for the North to come to the negotiating table.”