On Wed., Jan. 31, Stanford in Government, the Asia-Pacific Research Center, and the Center for International Security and Cooperation hosted a panel discussion on the growing North Korea nuclear crisis, and how the Western world should respond to it. The panel consisted of Secretary Jimin Kim, Deputy Consul General of South Korea, Secretary Shoichi Nagayoshi, Deputy Consul General of Japan, and Professor Kyou-Hyun Kim, a former South Korean diplomat. Freeman Spogli Institute Fellow and Director of Stanford’s Korea Program Yong Suk Lee moderated the conversation.

In their conversation, the three speakers highlighted several key topics relevant to the North Korea issue: sanctions, diplomacy, China, current U.S. policies, and future options.

Regarding sanctions, Prof. Kim explained that in order to prevent Kim Jong-Un from achieving nuclear capability, sanction implementation is essential. Lee then asked the panelists if the new sanctions can be effective when dealing with the unpredictable regime of Kim Jong-Un, and this prompted a response from Secretary Kim. “Sanctions are making an impact,” but slowly, he stated: as they say in Korean, Kim explained, “A thousand-mile journey begins with one step.” By applying pressure via sanctions “continuously” and “consistently”, this step-by-step process can have a greater impact.

Secretary Jimin Kim also explained that the current impact of sanctions is uncertain. “North Korea conducted a lot of ballistic missiles […] tests in 2017,” he said. “And this is coming after the closing of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in 2017 [where investments were made in North Korea]and afterwards, provocations have been continuously ratcheting up.”

When the conversation shifted to diplomacy, Secretary Nagayoshi discussed how all of the sanctions have loopholes that North Korea is exploiting in order to stay alive. Since many countries actually rely on products from North Korea, he added, we need to increase support for those countries “to build up their capabilities to implement sanctions.”

On the subject of diplomacy, the panelists delved deeper into South Korea and Japan’s stances on China-North Korea relations. Both Secretaries Kim and Nagayoshi expressed hope and cautious optimism regarding China’s latest policies with the Kim regime. According to Secretary Jimin Kim, China has started to implement the UN sanctions “in a more proactive role”. They hope that this cooperation continues in Chinese-North Korean relations.

With discussing the current U.S. policy, Professor Kyou-Hyun Kim argued that the United States needs to push China to pressure North Korea and uphold UN sanctions. China accounts for 95% of external trade for North Korea— a number that, he claimed, we need to lower quickly.

Given the current political climate and President Donald Trump’s recent comments about North Korea, the likelihood of nuclear war was a critical aspect of this panel’s discussion. Thankfully, all three panelists expressed sincere doubt that a nuclear war would be happening anytime soon. Secretary Jimin Kim stated, war “is not a viable option nor considered to be a viable option” because the United States has too strong of a military for North Korea to challenge, and—as Professor Kyou-Hyun Kim aptly said—the United States has “no highly credible intelligence on North Korea.”