WASHINGTON — In response to an apparent fourth nuclear test by North Korea, a House panel debated Wednesday possible solutions to the threat to national security posed by the isolated communist country.
The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific called the hearing immediately after an announcement from the government in Pyongyang of a successful test in the north of the country.
In his opening statement, subcommittee Chairman Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said he would introduce legislation forcing the executive branch to immediately impose harsher financial and diplomatic sanctions.
“Let’s be done with ‘strategic patience,’” Salmon said, referring to a term for the Obama Administration’s current approach. “It is time for strategic clarity.”
The importance of the U.S.-China relationship was at the center of the discussion. Both witnesses and committee members focused on the significant role China plays on the path forward to changing the status quo in dealing with North Korea.
“Every one of these conversations always involves China,” Salmon said. “They are the 800 pound gorilla.”
However independent academics called to testify were quick to describe the difficulties
of dealing with the world’s largest economy.
“The Chinese seek to weaken U.S. alliances, and this is a major problem in dealing with North Korea,” said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In 2005, the Treasury Department proposed a rule targeting a Macau bank that was “a
willing pawn for the North Korean government to engage in corrupt financial activities,”
according to a news release from Stuart Levey, at the time the treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. The announcement forced the bank – based in a special region of China – to the brink of ruin and had a significant impact on North Korean finances.
“When North Korea came back to the negotiating table they only wanted one thing: to unfreeze the $25 million in that bank in Macau,” said Victor Cha, senior adviser and Korea chairman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They wanted nothing else under the sun.”
Lawmakers compared the situation in North Korea with the nuclear program in Iran. They discussed the possibility of partnership between the two sanctioned nations as well as similarities between their nuclear programs.
“Every member of congress understands the nuclear threat that Israel feels from Iran,”
said Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn. Developments in North Korea deserve to be treated with more urgency by the U.S., he said.
Several members of the committee expressed similar frustration with what they described as a lack of action from the White House.
“I don’t understand why with his morning coffee the president doesn’t sign these financial sanctions and move on with it,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa.
On Tuesday, the House overwhelmingly approved the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, a bill that closes loopholes and makes mandatory suggestions previously proposed for action by the Treasury Department.
“The bill that was passed yesterday was a good move; it moves the ball up the field,” Salmon said. “But I think there’s more to be done.”