South Korea has found that pulling off an effective global action against North Korea in response to the maritime disaster that killed 46 sailors is a tough job indeed.
To make North Korea suffer the consequences of its provocative act, the South is taking a closer look at the North's illicit activities abroad through which it generates cash to sponsor its nuclear program.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Yu Myung-hwan confessed in an interview earlier this week that the nature of the Cheonan incident made it difficult for Seoul to convince the international community to take action against the Cheonan case.
Countries like China consider the maritime disaster a domestic issue that needs to be resolved by the two Koreas, he said.
The reaction is distinctively different from that in response to the North's missile and nuclear programs because they know that the weapons of mass destruction programs posed a grave threat to global security.
Given that the North's armed attack claimed 46 sailors and that survivors also suffer from post traumatic depression disorder, it is apparent that doing nothing is not an option.
In an effort to send a clear message that North Korea will have to suffer because of its provocation, South Korea plans to work closely with its allies to cut the cash flow into the North by strengthening policy coordination.
South Korea is also looking into the North's illicit activities such as drug trafficking, exporting weapons and trafficking counterfeit U.S. currency.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Foreign Minister Yu said, If cash inflow into North Korea is restricted, it will lower the possibility of nuclear weapons development and deter its belligerent behavior.
A U.S. State Department report, titled International Narcotics Control Strategy Report of 2003, said that the most profitable lines of state-supported illegal businesses in the North remain drug trafficking, gold smuggling, illegal sale and distribution of endangered species, and trafficking of counterfeit U.S. currency.
The question of how much money North Korea makes by engaging in illegal activities has not been answered accurately, mainly because the deals are made secretively.
A U.S. Congressional Research Service report of 2007, titled Drug Trafficking and North Korea, said in conservative estimates it generated about $85 million in 1997 where $71 million came from drugs and the remaining part from counterfeiting.
According to the Wall Street Journal, North Korea's clandestine drug income in 2003 was estimated to be substantially higher. The North's annual drug exports rose in the year to at least $500 million from about $100 million a few years ago.
According to the CRS report, drugs are exported through China and Russia to Asia and Europe via government trading companies, diplomatic pouches and concealed in legitimate commercial cargo.
A North Korea watcher was skeptical about the effectiveness of South's measure to restrict cash inflow into North Korea.
Cho Myung-chul, a research fellow of the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP), told The Korea Times that unavailability of accurate and credible data about the North's clandestine deals makes it difficult for the South to make the North feel pain.
It is almost impossible to distinguish between legal and illegal trade. Plus, no one knows exactly where the deals are made, making it difficult to trace the flow of money, the North Korean defector said.
But the foreign ministry said the U.S. imposing sanctions on Macau-based Banco Delta Asia for allegedly helping North Korea launder money was effective.
The ministry also said the restriction of cash inflow into the North is one of the options it considers to hurt North Korea in retaliation to the maritime disaster.
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