Why sanctions are not the way to fix relations with North Korea

Monument to Party Founding, Pyongyang, North Korea (Steve Barket, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Geoffrey See, Founder, Choson Exchange


  • How the two Koreas cooperate on the Gangwon province could make it the site for the next stage of the peace process.
  • North Korea realizes that diversifying its economic relations is critical for its autonomy and development.
  • The United States should consider providing the opportunity to reconnect both Koreas through Gangwon Province

On 5th November 2020, shortly after the US elections, the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on the Korean Peninsula hosted a panel discussing inter-Korean economic development of Gangwon (Kangwon) province in the two Koreas, together with the Jeju Peace Forum and Choson Exchange, a volunteer network training North Koreans on entrepreneurship and economic policy.

We were joined by Gangwon Governor Choi Moon Soon who reminded us that his province is in the same situation as the Korean Peninsula. The province is split in half by a demilitarized zone – into Gangwon in the South and Kangwon in the North – divided for seven decades too long, by a war that has yet to end.

How the two Koreas cooperate on Gangwon province, and whether the new US administration is willing to permit it, could make this the site for the next stage of South Korean President Moon Jae In’s peace process. It could also become a platform for building trust between the US and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in a relationship sorely needing its own Great Reset.

Kangwon Province in North Korea (DPRK) carries special symbolism for inter-Korean cooperation. Since 2014, North Korea invested significant state resources in its underdeveloped east coast, at Kangwon Province, to develop the tourism infrastructure. We have conducted business and economic policy training inside the province since 2014, and we track these developments at our website Kangwon Korea.

The province encompasses projects such as the Wonsan-Kalma beach resort, the Masikryong Ski Resort and the Geumgang Mountains, which hosted South Korean tourists until it was shut down in 2008 when a South Korean tourist was shot there.

Korean families divided by the war are occasionally hosted in the Geumgang Mountains for closely supervised family reunions. For the North Koreans who attend our programmes, many of them have only had exposure to South Koreans through the Geumgang Mountains or the Kaesong Industrial Complex, joint Korean initiatives that are now defunct.

Prior to 2006, Japan was North Korea’s top trading partner. Ever since Japan imposed economic sanctions on North Korea, North Korea’s foreign trade has become entirely dependent on China. This was especially so after the shuttering of inter-Korean trade in 2016.

North Korea’s decision to pick Kangwon Province to invest significant state resources in it, for an outward looking tourism sector, is interesting in this context. This province sits far from the epicentre of DPRK-China trade, at the furthest location from China. It is close to Japan and shares a land border with South Korea.

In choosing this area to develop, DPRK continues to hope for economic ties with South Korea, Japan and the rest of Asia. Its choice of industry to focus on – the tourism sector – if done sensibly, could benefit the many entrepreneurs and small businesses we train in the country. It also holds the potential for greater people-to-people exchange with the rest of the world, although past tourism models have limited the scope of such interactions. For a small country that is now entirely dependent economically on China, North Korea realizes that diversifying its economic relations is critical for its autonomy and development.

Economic sanctions have been, for the past decades, the weapon of choice in coercing North Korea into compliance. There is increasing recognition that the ability to lay economic siege to DPRK is outmatched by its determination to hang on to its nuclear deterrence.

These sanctions also have severe humanitarian impact on a population already struggling with COVID-19 and natural disasters. As an estimated 95% of DPRK trade is with China, any additional economic pressure requires Chinese complicity. This will be hard to obtain. Beyond the strategic rivalry with the US accentuated by the Trump administration, China is unwilling to push a policy that it does not believe will lead to a resolution of tensions on the Korean Peninsula. China also believes that North Korea made significant concessions in halting its weapons testing for which it was rewarded with zero sanctions relief.

The United States should consider providing the opportunity to reconnect both Koreas through Kangwon Province and the Kaesong Industrial Complex, or even to connect North Korea to the world through these initiatives, in a phased manner.

This can restore some economic leverage in its discussions with North Korea and lay a crucial foundation for building trust in a relationship crying out for it. Most importantly, the US should take a realistic look at the failures of past transactional negotiations and use these connectors to build broader areas of interactions in the US-DPRK relationship so as to better safeguard US security and prevent nuclear proliferation.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Accountability for atrocities in Myanmar ‘cannot be expected’ within its borders – UN investigator

Here’s what keeps CEOs awake at night (and why it might be bad news for your next job)

Closing the gaps in accelerating women’s rights: the role of medical students

DiscoverEU: 15,000 travel passes up for grabs to explore the EU this summer

The European Parliament double-checks the EU 2014-2020 budget

Online radio and news broadcasts: Parliament and Council reach deal

The deforestation risks lurking in the banking sector

A renewed multilateralism fit for the 21st century: the EU’s agenda

Ebola in DR Congo: UN chief ‘outraged’ by recent killings of civilians and health workers

Europe faces economic turmoil as Italy gets closer to the Excessive Debt Procedure

What do toilets have to do with climate change?

Half the world’s population is still offline. Here’s why that matters

Microsoft says the internet is getting a little nicer

Sweden gives all employees time off to be entrepreneurs

This is how CO2 can be transformed into food for animals

UN genocide adviser welcomes historic conviction of former Khmer Rouge leaders

Global OECD welcomes Colombia as its 37th Member

From me to we: COVID-19 heralds a new model of entrepreneurship

Yemen update: UNICEF chief condemns attack in Taiz that claims lives of seven children

Permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) on the table of NATO Defense Ministers amid US concerns

‘Preserve, revitalize and promote’ indigenous languages, or lose a ‘wealth of traditional knowledge’, UN chief says

1 in 7 people would choose not to fly because of climate change

COP21 Breaking News_05 December: Carbon Price Needed for Climate Change Success

These countries are making ‘travel bubbles’ for post-lockdown tourism

As Houthi forces withdraw from key Yemeni ports, UN monitoring chief welcomes ‘first practical step on the ground’

How technology helped Serbia save 180 million sheets of paper in less than 4 years

UN peacekeepers warn of increasing global challenges

GSMA Mobile 360 Series – MENA in Dubai, in Association with The European Sting

Migration and rule of law on next ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly agenda

Closing the global gender gap – whose job is it anyway?

Sexuality and ageing: challenges of achieving sexual rights in people with HIV

ECB reaches the boundaries of its mandate to revive the entirety of Eurozone

ILO warns of widespread insecurity in the global labour market

A record number of people will need help worldwide during 2020: Global Humanitarian Overview

EU Trust Fund for Africa: Can it be beneficial for Italy and tackle the migration crisis in the Mediterranean?

Business is a crucial partner in solving the mental health challenge

From G7 announcement in August to Paris Peace Forum, Business for Inclusive Growth (B4IG) coalition gains momentum

World Youth Skills Day: What you need to know for 2020

UN chief ‘deeply concerned’ by military escalation in northwest Syria

ESCALAR: up to €1.2 billion to help high potential companies grow and expand in Europe

Car industry: New rules on cleaner and safer cars start to apply across Europe

Media freedom: EP warns of attempts to silence critics and undermine pluralism

ECB doesn’t dare touch Eurozone’s big banks

On our way to China

EU’s Finance Ministers draft plan to raise tax bills of online giants like Google and Amazon

Australian solar could power Singapore within a decade

COVID-19 : Have we learnt any lessons at all from last year?

UN food agency begins ‘last resort’ partial withdrawal of aid to opposition-held Yemeni capital

Are the G20 leaders ready to curb corporate tax-avoidance?

These countries are pioneering hydrogen power

Number of members in Parliament’s committees to change after Brexit

Don’t underestimate the power of the fintech revolution

UK’s PM Theresa May asks for a two-year Brexit transition plan as negotiations round kicks off

Sustainable development demands a broader vision, says new OECD Development Centre report

Eurozone again whipped by Greek winds

Clean energy will do to gas what gas has done to coal

Belarus, climate action, COVID-19: MEPs assess EU summit results

UN appeals for international support as flood waters rise in wake of second Mozambique cyclone

System value can power the energy transition in emerging markets

Telemedicine in Brazilian favelas: The medicine of social isolation transforming public health

More Stings?

Leave a Reply to Why sanctions are not the way to fix relations with North Korea – TheAsiaBIZZ.com Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s