Country Report: South Korea (March 2018)

In February and March 2018, South Korean news editorials focused on developments in US-South Korean relations and inter-Korean relations before, during, and after the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. On US-South Korean relations, analysts discussed Trump’s State of the Union address and the withdrawal of Victor Cha as the nominee for US ambassador to South Korea—both highlighting Trump’s hardline stance against North Korea. As the Olympic games commenced, South Korean analysts shifted focus to the visit by US Vice President Mike Pence, and subsequently, by the first daughter Ivanka Trump. Finally, they assessed increasing US trade protectionism and its effects on South Korea, following Trump’s announcement of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

On inter-Korean relations, South Korean analysts assessed the visit by Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jung and North Korea’s titular head of state Kim Yong-nam and discussed Kim Jong-un’s formal invitation to Moon to visit North Korea. The North Korean high-level delegation was later joined by the former chief of national intelligence Kim Yong-chol—the mastermind behind the sinking of the Cheonan military vessel in 2010—presumably in an attempt to test Seoul’s flexibility with Pyongyang. Lastly, as the North-South talks began in Pyongyang, South Korean editorials examined the prospects of inter-Korean relations and their implications for US-North Korean relations.

Trump’s State of the Union Address and Victor Cha

On January 30, Trump delivered his first State of the Union address. In his speech, Trump criticized North Korea for its human rights abuses, highlighting the case of Otto Warmbier, the US student who died shortly after his release from North Korean detention, and of Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector who escaped to the South in 2006. Trump also condemned Kim Jong-un’s “reckless pursuit” of nuclear weapons and promised to wage a “campaign of maximum pressure” to impede the North’s nuclear program.

On the same day, Trump rescinded the nomination of Victor Cha as the US ambassador to South Korea. While the Trump administration declined to provide specific reasons for dropping Cha’s candidacy, analysts pointed to Cha’s objections to a limited strike on North Korea and withdrawal from US-South Korea (KORUS) FTA. For many, Trump’s decision signaled that he is not bluffing about a preventive strike, raising the threat of a potential military clash in Korea and forecasting deteriorating US-North Korean relations.       

Progressive coverage expressed disappointment and concern with Trump’s address and decision to withdraw Cha’s nomination, noting that his attitude toward North Korea remains highly adversarial even as Seoul’s efforts to improve relations have been evident. A Hankyoreh article on January 31 cites Cha’s op-ed in The Washington Post, in which he acknowledges his disagreement with the White House over its consideration of a preventive strike against North Korea; the article worries that the Trump administration is dangerously inclined to a military strike approach, but finds some, albeit limited, comfort in that he did not directly mention it during his address. A Kyunghyangarticle on January 31 is more alarmed. The article points out that it is extremely unconventional for a nomination to be dropped so late in the process. If, indeed, Cha was removed from consideration for his policy positions, then it is not unreasonable to expect that the next nominee will espouse some highly aggressive views on North Korea (e.g., a “bloody nose” strike), and support US retrenchment vis-à-vis its bilateral trade commitments (e.g. withdrawal from KORUS FTA). The article also emphasizes that Trump’s address fails to note the momentum of inter-Korean dialogue. That Trump’s stance has not shifted an inch since the North’s latest provocation suggests his disinterest in negotiating with the North as well as disregard for South Korea’s initiatives.

In addition, progressive coverage analyzed the logic behind a “bloody nose” strike and dismissed its viability. A Kyunghyang article on February 1 argues that no preventive strike will be able to wipe out North Korea’s nuclear facilities, and that even if it were able to delay the North’s nuclear advancement, it would harden their conviction that acquiring nuclear weapons is the only way to thwart US invasion. That North Korea will simply give in when attacked is wishful thinking, which could potentially result in South Korea’s destruction. Similarly, a Hankyoreh article on February 1 portrays the idea of a “bloody nose” strike as a “gamble,” and 50 million South Korean lives its “collateral.” The article asserts that Trump might be pursuing tougher rhetoric on North Korea in order to disrupt inter-Korean reconciliation, which he sees as a mere distraction from the existing sanctions campaign. Hankyoreh also raises the possibility that Trump is considering a strike against North Korea to divert attention from his domestic political crisis, citing US official Matthew Pottinger, who reportedly stated in a closed meeting that a preventive strike “might help in the midterm elections.”

Conservative coverage posited that Moon’s preoccupation with dialogue is undermining the effectiveness of the sanctions campaign. According to a Munhwa article on January 31, Trump’s State of the Union address is an indirect condemnation of Moon’s approach to North Korea. Trump declared, “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation,” reminding Moon that appeasement is likely to fail. The article sees Moon’s overtures to the North as a distraction from the international community’s increasing efforts to isolate and punish Pyongyang for its nuclear development. It notes, in particular, increasing pressure on North Korea by China and Russia—two previously unwilling partners; China has begun to close Chinese businesses established in the North, and Russia has started to deport North Korean laborers in the country. Despite their cooperation, however, South Korea is now seeking to dismantle the sanctions regime. Most recently, much to Washington’s displeasure, Seoul sought to supply fuel—a sanctioned item—to the ship that carried the North Korean art troupe for a cultural event in Mt. Kumgang, which was later canceled by the North.

Noting a growing gap between Washington and Seoul’s attitudes toward and policies on North Korea, conservative outlets also criticized the Moon administration for jeopardizing the US-South Korean alliance. A Joongang article on February 1 argues that if Moon continues to make concessions to the North, Washington might be compelled to act militarily. While the article admits that a “bloody nose” strike is dangerous and considered “unreasonable” even by a hawkish academic like Victor Cha, the withdrawal of his nomination suggests that Trump is: 1) opposed to dialogue, and 2) opposed to anyone challenging his militaristic approach. Indeed, the article points out that those who support dovish views on North Korea are quietly disappearing from the Trump administration and that even Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who supports unconditional US-North Korea talks, is being “treated like an invisible man.” As the position of US envoy to South Korea remains vacant—deeply troubling in this volatile political climate—Seoul must step up its efforts to strengthen communication and cooperation with Washington.

Kim Yo-jung’s Visit

On February 9, North Korea’s high-level delegation arrived in South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. The high-level delegation included Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jung, marking it the first time a member of the Kim family has stepped foot in the South since the Korean War. During her meeting with Moon, she delivered Kim Jong-un’s personal letter to Moon, in which Kim expressed his desire to improve inter-Korean relations and invited Moon to visit Pyongyang for a summit.

Progressive coverage saw Kim Yo-jung’s participation as signaling the North’s commitment to improving inter-Korean relations. A Kyunghyang article on February 7 argues that Kim Yo-jung is the most direct channel through which the Moon administration could communicate with Kim Jong-un. Viewing her visit as an exceptional opportunity, the article encourages Moon to utilize the momentum of warming inter-Korean relations toward encouraging dialogue between North Korea and the United States. A Hankyoreh article on February 7 echoes this view, asserting that Kim Jong-un’s message—in sending his own sister—is to start an honest conversation with the South and build trust. If the North continues to demonstrate such sincerity, Seoul should seek dialogue regardless of the existing sanctions regime; the article reminds readers that sanctions, after all, are a means to a peaceful resolution, not an end in themselves.

In addition, progressive outlets welcomed Kim Jong-un’s invitation for an inter-Korean summit, though they questioned whether the United States is prepared to support the dialogue. Indeed, a Kyunghyang article on February 11 notes that despite warming inter-Korean relations, US-North Korea relations remains conflictual; for the inter-Korean summit to succeed, Seoul must first convince Washington of the value of dialogue and create an environment conducive to compromise. Recalling the two prior inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007, the article asserts that US support for the talks is indispensable and encourages Moon to bring Trump on board. The article also urges North Korea to consider offering a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, which would serve as a catalyst for inter-Korean reconciliation and an incentive for Washington to support talks with Pyongyang.

Conservative coverage was less optimistic about Kim Jong-un’s intentions in sending such a high-level delegation to the South. A Joongang article on February 8, 2018 argues that Pyongyang is trying to initiate dialogue with the United States through South Korea, threatened by Trump’s mounting sanctions and rhetoric about a “bloody nose strike.” Meanwhile, a Donga article on February 8 offers an alternative viewpoint, suggesting that Pyongyang’s real objective is to direct the world’s attention to North Korea, using the Pyeongchang Olympics as a platform for its public relations efforts. Yet another scenario is presented by Chosunon February 8, positing that the North’s delegation is a way of testing Seoul’s flexibility with Pyongyang, as it includes, among others, Choe Hwi, a subject of UN sanctions. While admitting that North Korea’s high-level visit presents an opportunity to diffuse tension, conservative outlets were united in voicing concern about Pyongyang’s ulterior motives, against which they sought to alert Moon.   

Likewise, conservative outlets cautioned Moon against agreeing hastily to an inter-Korean summit. A Hankook Kyungjae article lists the conditions under which inter-Korean talks could prove meaningful. First, strengthening US-South Korea-Japan trilateral cooperation is crucial to ensuring lasting peace. Second, North Korea must be willing to discuss specifically and verifiably the process for its nuclear and missile disarmament—without this, the summit would simply serve as a tool for advancing Pyongyang’s nuclear program by buying it time and weakening sanctions. Worse, Pyongyang could use the talks to paint South Korea as having conceded to its superior, nuclear-armed northern brother. Third, the Moon administration must seek South Korean public’s approval behind inter-Korean talks. Fourth, it should also consider hosting the talks in Seoul instead of Pyongyang—a way to test the sincerity of the Kim regime’s commitment to inter-Korean reconciliation. Noting that the list is not exhaustive, the article concludes by reminding Moon that talks for the sake of talks are meaningless, and so is improvement in inter-Korean relations without guarantees of denuclearization.       

Mike Pence’s Visit

Mike Pence led the US delegation to the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics opening ceremony. He brought with him Fred Warmbier, the father of Otto Warmbier. During Pence’s stay in South Korea, he visited a memorial dedicated to the 46 South Korean sailors who were killed in the 2010 Cheonan attack, met with North Korean defectors, and spoke with Moon. While underscoring the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” approach, Pence also stated that the United States is open to talks with Pyongyang so long as the sanctions continue. Despite expressing his willingness to engage with the North, however, Pence skipped an Olympic dinner reception, presumably to avoid an encounter with Pyongyang’s representative Kim Yong-nam.

Progressive coverage criticized Pence for trying to set back inter-Korean relations that Moon has so carefully sought to improve. A Kyunghyang article on February 6—titled “Pence is so focused on anti-North Korean events; why is he even coming to Pyeongchang?”—argues that, rather than celebrating the Olympics and the message of peace it symbolizes, Pence is using the occasion to provoke North Korea. The article highlights, in particular, the attendance by Warmbier, which the article sees as a direct violation of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which prohibits “protests, demonstrations or the promotion of political, religious or racial propaganda.” A Hankyoreh article on February 6 shares this assessment, arguing that Pence’s anti-North Korea campaign is both inappropriate, given the spirit of the Olympic games, and unnecessary, as the international community is already well aware of the reality of North Korea.

Progressive coverage was particularly critical when Pence skipped the dinner reception, designed to make him interact with North Korean head of state Kim Yong-nam. A Kyunghyang article on February 9 states that Pence’s absence signified his disrespect for the Olympics custom and its host, South Korea. If the Trump administration was serious about talking to North Korea, then attending the event—however uncomfortable—would have been an exceptional opportunity to push the momentum of dialogue. Asserting that there are other ways and venues to clarify Washington’s position vis-à-vis Pyongyang, the article condemns Pence for choosing the Olympics as a platform for protest.  

Conservative coverage emphasized the deepening fragmentation within the US-South Korean alliance, blaming the Moon administration’s accommodation of the North during the Olympic games as the primary source of friction. A Segye article on February 6 points to the obvious disparity between Moon’s attitude toward Pyongyang and Pence’s message and asserts that Moon has allowed too many exemptions to the current sanctions regime against Pyongyang to host its athletes and high-level delegation. A Chosun article on February 7 echoes this view, noting in particular how Pence’s remarks and planned activities in South Korea signal Washington’s skepticism about Pyongyang’s motives: Pence stressed that the purpose of his visit is to prevent North Korea from hijacking the Olympics and to shed light on its atrocious human rights record. Both articles stress that Moon’s efforts to appease the North are a mere distraction if they are not able to compel Pyongyang to denuclearize.

Conservative coverage viewed Pence’s decision to skip the dinner reception as further evidence that Washington is not ready to talk with Pyongyang. A Joongang article on July 10 claims that Pence’s message has been consistent and clear—that he has no intentions of letting North Korea “hijack” the Olympics through “a charm offensive”—but the Moon administration is forcing dialogue without sufficient discussion and coordination with its key ally Washington. Portraying Pence’s absence as a warning against Seoul, Joongang underscores that inter-Korean reconciliation cannot be realized without denuclearization, progress toward which can only be achieved with solid US-South Korean cooperation.

Cancelation of Pence-Kim Meeting

On February 10, during their visits to South Korea for the Pyeongchang Olympics, Pence and Kim Yo-jung were scheduled to meet. However, the North Koreans canceled two hours before the meeting, expressing dissatisfaction with Pence’s unyielding criticisms of North Korea.

Progressive coverage attributed the last-minute cancelation to Pence’s anti-North Korean campaign during the Olympics, in particular his refusal to attend the high-level reception in which he was seated next to the North Korean representatives. A Kyunghyang article on February 21 states that the North Koreans may have judged from Pence’s attitude that the meeting would be counterproductive. The article also faults Washington for releasing information about the failed meeting while Seoul and Pyongyang kept it a secret. While the article is disappointed that the meeting did not take place, it encourages Seoul to arrange another, potentially with Ivanka Trump. A Hankyoreh article on February 21 shares the assessment, adding that Washington may be trying to use the diplomatic incident for domestic political gain by blaming the North Koreans for the failed meeting. At the same time, however, Hankyoreh admonishes North Korea against backing away from a diplomatic commitment at the last minute, advising that it would only deepen Washington’s distrust and damage its reputation.

While acknowledging that Pence’s provocative behavior contributed to the North’s cancelation, conservative coverage criticized North Korea for failing to grasp the opportunity to initiate dialogue with the United States. A Segye article on February 21 states that it is “foolish” for Pyongyang to think that they have any leverage; the international community is fully committed to sanctioning and pressuring North Korea, and Washington is even considering a military option. The article reminds that, in fact, dialogue might not be an option but a necessity for Pyongyang. A Donga article on February 22 echoes this view, but finds it somewhat reassuring that there have been contact between Washington and Pyongyang underneath the surface of their increasingly brash talk.

Kim Yong-chol’s Visit

North Korea’s ex-intelligence chief Kim Yong-chol—blamed for orchestrating the 2010 attack on Cheonan and killing 46 South Korean sailors—arrived in South Korea on February 25 to attend the Olympics closing ceremony. During his three-day visit, he met with Moon, presumably to discuss the details of a potential inter-Korean summit. He headed the North Korean delegation to the South despite being personally sanctioned by both South Korea and the United States; the latter even announced a fresh set of sanctions against the North Korean shipping industry, which Pyongyang called an “act of war.” Conservative lawmakers and activists staged an overnight protest with banners that read, “Arrest Kim Yong-chol.”

Progressive coverage criticized the main opposition party for hypocrisy. A Kyunghyang article on February 23 points out that even though Kim Yong-chol was the head of national intelligence at the time of the Cheonan sinking, there is no evidence directly linking him to the particular attack; conservative lawmakers are spreading as-yet unverified theories about Kim to impede inter-Korean dialogue. Further, the article recalls that the conservative party, under the Park Geun-hye administration, supported Kim’s visit to the South in 2014, praising the president’s initiative for dialogue. Kyunghyang therefore questions the authenticity of the opposition party’s objections to Kim. The article also extends criticisms to the conservative outlet Chosun for a similar turnaround in its position vis-à-vis Kim; Chosun had opined in 2014 that “the reality of inter-Korean relations necessitates dealing with even a criminal,” but today, it criticizes the Moon government for letting Kim step foot in South Korea.

In addition, progressive coverage discussed the prospects of US-North Korean talks and relations during and after the Olympics. A Hankyoreh article on February 25 finds encouraging that the North Korean delegation expressed willingness to meet with the US representatives and to widen inter-Korean cooperation. The article speculated that the inclusion of Choi Kang-il, the deputy director of North American affairs, and an English translator in the North Korean delegation indicated the North’s preparation for a potential meeting with the US delegates under Ivanka Trump. Despite Trump’s increasing sanctions, Hankyoreh notes that the possibility of US-North Korean talks is growing as both parties signal their readiness to engage in talks.

Conservative coverage responded to progressive lawmakers and outlets for their claim that conservative objections to Kim’s visit are hypocritical. A Chosun article on February 24 argues that there is a difference between meeting General Kim at Panmunjom for military talks, as occurred in 2014, and hosting him as an honored guest during the Olympics. The article questions: “Four years ago, under Park, South Korean officials demanded Kim to acknowledge and apologize for his role in the Cheonan attack; will Moon do the same?” The article also criticizes the Ministry of Unification for trying to water down Kim’s involvement, admitting paradoxically that he was the head of the team responsible for the Cheonan incident, but somehow insufficiently linked to the attack. In contrast, the US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that she hopes to see Kim visit the Cheonan memorial, signifying US convictions about his role in the attack. Chosun recalls Berlin’s 2016 decision to reject North Korea’s nominee for ambassador to Germany, declaring him persona non grata—a foreign individual prohibited to enter or stay in a country due to diplomatic censure—and urges Moon to refuse Kim’s visit on similar grounds.   

Conservative coverage was less optimistic about the prospects of US-North Korean talks and argued that they depended on the North’s willingness to denuclearize. A Segye article on February 26 postulates that the North’s intention for sending General Kim to Seoul is to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul rather than engage in talks with the former. Indeed, the two allies’ positions vis-a-vis Pyongyang are diverging rapidly; even as Seoul sought warmer relations with Pyongyang, Washington has remained skeptical about Pyongyang’s intentions and even stepped up its sanctions campaign. Segye reminds Pyongyang that dialogue may be their only way out of a military confrontation with the United States.

More centrist outlets highlighted the widening internal division in Seoul caused by General Kim’s visit. Kookmin on February 25 states that the controversy surrounding Kim demonstrates that the public is no longer blindly supportive of inter-Korean dialogue and reconciliation. A Seoul Shinmun article on February 24 similarly asserts that the conservative-progressive split over General Kim’s visit is counterproductive, but adds that the Moon administration is in many ways responsible for the intensifying discord. The article asserts that the North intended to test how far Seoul is willing to make concessions to appease the North and challenge the legitimacy of the sanctions regime.

US Trade Protectionism

On March 1, Trump announced his plans to impose heavy tariffs on steel and aluminum imports of 25% and 10% respectively, setting off widespread fears of an international trade war. The US Department of Commerce had recently recommended the import restrictions—citing a rarely used provision of US trade law that authorizes tariffs on certain imports for national security reasons—and offered a number of options ranging from targeted and general tariffs to import quotas. Of those suggestions, Trump selected blanket tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Progressive and conservative outlets were united in voicing their fears about the effect of Trump’s newly-announced import restrictions on international free trade. Progressive outlets such as Kyunghyangon March 2 argued that Trump’s decision will most certainly backfire, compelling other countries to impose similar measures and triggering a worldwide trade war. The article notes, in particular, that even US allies like Canada and Japan might investigate ways to retaliate, while targets like China are already considering reciprocal measures, for instance against the US agricultural sector. Conservative outlets such as Dongaon March 3 echo these concerns, citing the EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who stated that Brussels will consider introducing its own “safeguard” tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Further, both Kyunghyang and Donga point out that the US trade law on which Trump’s latest import restrictions are based is outdated and detrimental to the liberal international order, which the United States effectively created. Indeed, Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which allows the Department of Commerce to investigate the impact of certain imports on national security, was instituted during the height of the Cold War to target communism and was rarely invoked for the very reason that it could undermine free trade.   

While broadly sharing these fears, progressive outlet Hankyoreh on March 2 adds that Trump may be using the tariffs to strengthen his domestic support base as the midterm elections draw near. The article postulates that if the Republicans lose the House and/or the Senate, the Trump administration would be rendered lame duck, and Trump may even face impeachment. Trump is therefore trying to appeal to the Rust-Belt Republican voters by introducing these barriers to trade and adding jobs to the manufacturing sector. 

Meanwhile, conservative outlet Chosunon March 3 focused on the effects of Trump’s tariffs on the South Korean economy. The article notes that as an export-oriented economy and the third largest steel exporter to the United States, South Korea will inevitably suffer. In addition, as Trump considers rejoining the TPP under Japanese leadership, the article worries whether South Korea will become further isolated in regional and international trade. Against this backdrop, Chosun urges the Moon government to reevaluate the economy internally and take necessary measures to strengthen it, including by restructuring failing companies such as STX and Sungdong, instead of delaying tough decisions for fear of losing jobs and the effect this could have on elections.

Inter-Korean Talks and the Prospects of US-North Korea Talks 

On March 5, Moon’s special envoys left for North Korea on a two-day trip to discuss with its leadership a potential resumption of talks with Washington over denuclearization. National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong led the delegation, delivering a personal letter from Moon to Kim Jong-un, in which Moon expressed his hopes for improving inter-Korean relations and forging peace on the peninsula. During the talks, the two Koreas agreed to hold the third inter-Korean summit at Panmunjeom at the end of April. The North also expressed willingness to hold talks with Washington over denuclearization and normalization of their relations, and agreed to refrain from conducting further nuclear and missile tests while engaging with South Korea.

Progressive coverage celebrated the outcomes of the North-South talks in Pyongyang and welcomed its decision to turn to dialogue. A Kyunghyang article on March 6 asserts that the agreement on an inter-Korean summit at Panmunjeom signals Pyongyang’s trust in the Moon administration. North Korea deems the safety of its leader to be a top priority, which is why the previous two summits took place in Pyongyang, prompting conservatives in South Korea and the United States to mock them as “tributary” summits. Likewise, a Hankyoreh article on March 7 highlights the importance of this move, stating that Kim has accommodated Moon to create “the right environment” for dialogue. The article also applauds Pyongyang for agreeing to open a hotline between Kim and Moon, as well as for declaring that neither nuclear nor conventional weapons will be used against South Korea; both decisions carry huge symbolic significance and reassure the war-wary public.

At the same time, Kyunghyang notes that Kim’s position has not essentially changed; the North’s denuclearization is contingent on it receiving the necessary guarantees of regime security from the United States. This position reinforces Pyongyang’s insistence that its nuclear weapons are defensive in nature, rather than offensive or coercive as the majority of the international community currently views them. In a slightly different interpretation, Hankyoreh posits that Pyongyang’s denuclearization will follow once its relations with Washington have been normalized. In order to enable US-North Korean talks—a starting point of their normalization process—Seoul requested Pyongyang to declare a temporary moratorium on its nuclear and missile testing, to which Kim agreed, making Seoul a key broker in mending US-North Korean relations. Both progressive outlets concur that the most crucial task now is to convince Washington of Pyongyang’s commitment to dialogue and how it aligns with the interests of the United States.

Conservative coverage was skeptical about Pyongyang’s motives in engaging with Seoul. A Chosun article on March 7 admits that some results of the recent high-level talks in Pyongyang were noteworthy—including Kim’s willingness to hold talks at Panmunjeom and open a direct communication line with Moon, which could help prevent potential conflicts over a misunderstanding—but finds suspect Kim’s sincerity on denuclearization. Chosun postulates that Kim’s conditions about “regime security” are a mere ruse to drive out US forces stationed in South Korea; demanding that those conditions be met—which is impossible for Seoul to accept—is to say Pyongyang has no real intentions of denuclearizing. Yet, the logjam would allow North Korea the time it needs to complete its nuclear weapons program, which could compel Washington to trade its recognition of the North as a “nuclear state” for its forfeiture of ICBM technology—a worst-case scenario for South Korea.

In addition to Pyongyang’s intentions, a Joongang article on March 7 questions the practicalities of putting Pyongyang’s promises to action. Indeed, Joongang argues, an inter-Korean summit is meaningless if it does not lead to denuclearization, and until a complete and verifiable denuclearization process is laid out, there cannot be any concessions from the South that could jeopardize the existing sanctions regime. A Donga article on March 7 asserts that Washington is indeed sending that message. Despite the momentum of inter-Korean dialogue, the United States imposed further sanctions on North Korea for its role in assassinating Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam, which signifies Washington’s aim to continue the sanctions regardless of potential US-North Korean talks.