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US shouldn't sleep on major threat from North Korea

OpinionUS shouldn't sleep on major threat from North Korea

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This month marks 71 years since the signing of the Korean War armistice agreement, which ended more than three years of deadly combat and left the Korean Peninsula divided between North and South. Memories of the “Forgotten War” may have faded for many Americans, but for me, they are crystal clear. 

I was born in South Korea in the aftermath of the war in Incheon, the site of General Douglas MacArthur’s famous landing that gave allied armies a foothold to push back North Korean forces. While armed hostilities were over, devastation from the war remained. I have vivid memories as a young girl watching U.S. troops drive by in their trucks and throw out candies, my first taste of the freedom and opportunity of my adopted home.  

My experiences guide my work today as one of the first Korean American women to serve in Congress and as chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Indo-Pacific. 

PENTAGON THREATENS NORTH KOREAN SOLDIERS WILL BE ‘CANNON FODDER’ IF SENT TO AID RUSSIA IN UKRAINE

Throughout my lifetime, I have watched South Korea bloom into a developed nation, vibrant democracy and important strategic partner to the United States. I have also watched North Korea’s regime – from Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un – put the lives of the North Korean people in peril by pursuing a military first policy and more recently doubling down on growing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.  

Putin Kim Jong Un North Korea Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

While North Korean leaders have changed since the Korean War, one thing remains clear: the United States shouldn’t sleep on North Korea.  

We know what Kim Jong Un is up to. He’s increasing aggression, forging stronger ties with our adversaries and setting his sights beyond the Korean peninsula. The question is what is Kim Jong Un capable of, and are the United States and our allies ready? 

If we sit on the sidelines now, we have already lost in protecting peace and stability in the region and maintaining our rules-based international order. We must step up the pressure now, promote deterrence and preserve peace before it’s too late. 

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has conducted three ballistic missile test launches to date so far this year – in January, March, and April. North Korean troops have crossed the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) multiple times in recent months, and North Korea flew hundreds of balloons carrying trash across the border to South Korea, for the third time since May.  

North Korea has also grown in its cyber capabilities, illicitly financing its regime and evading sanctions. The UN found North Korea to be responsible for at least 58 cyberattacks worth $3 billion.  

And we know North Korea is not operating alone. The recent meeting between Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin underscores the need for the United States to promote deterrence and be in coordination with our allies and partners.  

The details of their defense pact have not been released, but we would be naïve to not take their agreement seriously and understand what it means symbolically and practically.  

North Korea has already sold millions of rockets and artillery shells to Russia for its continued unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. In fact, Russia has received 260,000 metric tons of munitions and launched at least 10 North Korea-made missiles on Ukraine since September.  

Putin North KOrea

A picture of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on a billboard is seen on a building on June 18, 2024, in Pyongyang, North Korea, in preparation for Putin arriving in North Korea for a two-day visit. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)

Russia has also helped North Korea evade United Nations sanctions monitoring over its nuclear program. I wrote to the State Department in February for updates regarding North Korea’s relationship and collaboration with Russia pertaining to the War in Ukraine, and if the People’s Republic of China is helping transfer weapons. I have not heard back.   

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The United States and our allies must identify and effectively close all sanctions loopholes as North Korea finds relief from sanctions through adversaries. To name one example, there have been alarming revelations of North Korean goods produced by state-sponsored forced labor entering the United States, ultimately funding the North Korean regime’s illicit activities and nuclear program.  

Earlier in February, big-name American companies were caught sourcing seafood from Chinese producers relying on North Korean forced labor; since this revelation, some of these companies have suspended ties with these Chinese producers.  

If we sit on the sidelines now, we have already lost in protecting peace and stability in the region and maintaining our rules-based international order. We must step up the pressure now, promote deterrence and preserve peace before it’s too late. 

While there have been ongoing efforts to keep supply chains free from goods produced with North Korean forced labor, we must do more. The U.S. State Department must periodically review and update the forced labor list, required by the North Korean Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, and impose sanctions on all newly added entities. 

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We also must pass the “North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act,” a bipartisan bill I am leading to support the freedom and basic human rights of the North Korean people and deter Kim Jong Un’s torture, imprisonment, starvation and force labor of his people.   

The United States must wake up, recognize the dangerous regime we are dealing with today, not what we hope it will be, and take action to deter North Korean aggression. 

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