Fletcher in the News

For 60 Years, North Korea has had No Serious Incentives to Reform: Prof. Lee

Sung-Yoon Lee is the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor in Korean Studies and Assistant Professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University

Is China taking a harsher tone on North Korea?


Before North Korea conducted its third nuclear test this week, China made strong efforts to dissuade Pyongyang, saying that if it went ahead with the test, “it must pay a heavy price.”

After Pyongyang went ahead with the test anyway, China, Pyongyang’s largest trading partner and benefactor, summoned the North Korean ambassador to Beijing in protest. Beijing also joined in the immediate, unanimous condemnation of North Korea’s actions during an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

Because China's support for North Korea has made it tough for the international community to get Pyongyang to back away from its weapons programs, some wondered if these actions signaled that Beijing was taking a harsher stance on the North. But as the UN Security Council prepares to expand sanctions in response to the test, China will still likely seek to limit the strength of any measures taken against North Korea, say most analysts. …

… And despite China's recent reprimanding of the North, without a substantial change to Beijing's policy toward North Korea, conventional multilateral efforts to rein the North will likely continue to amount to little.

"From North Korea's perspective, over the past 60 years they've never had to pay a serious penalty for their provocations, so there isn't a serious incentive to reform," says Sung-yoon Lee, assistant professor of Korean studies at The Fletcher School at Tufts University.

North Korea has said that it will consider further sanctions “an act of war,” which could lead to another missile launch or a fourth nuclear test.

As North Korea continues to pursue its goal of lighter, more deadly weapons that can travel farther, some analysts have suggested the possibility of the international community deciding to implement more serious financial sanctions to freeze North Korean assets and the sources of the illicit funds that sustain the regime.

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