US: N Korean remittances at risk if it conducts nuclear test

Washington—A fifth North Korean nuclear test could trigger new sanctions including an effort to choke off hard currency earnings by its workers abroad, the top U.S. diplomat for the Asia-Pacific region has said.
“Like a regimen of medicine, the dosage can be upped when the effects fall short of what’s required,” Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Danny Russel told media late on Tuesday.
Russel made clear he was speaking about the possibility of fresh sanctions by the U.N. Security Council, by the United States on its own, or by a group of like-minded states from the European Union and Southeast Asia, along with the United States.
North Korea conducted a fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch the following month, triggering expanded U.N. sanctions aimed at starving it of funds for its atomic weapons program.
Some experts expect North Korea to conduct a fifth nuclear test in the near future, possibly before a ruling party congress in early May, following an embarrassing failure of a test of an intermediate-range missile last week.
Estimates of North Korean workers abroad vary widely but a study by the South’s state-run Korea Institute for National Unification put the number as high as 150,000, primarily in China and Russia, sending back as much as $900 million annually. North Koreans are known to work abroad in restaurants and on construction sites, and also as doctors.
The effectiveness of current, or any new, sanctions depends heavily on them being fully implemented by China, North Korea’s neighbor, the closest thing it has to an ally and by far its largest trading partner, U.S. officials and analysts say.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said all sides should refrain from doing or saying anything to worsen tensions, and remain calm and exercise restraint to get the talks process back on track.
“I don’t want to answer a hypothetical question,” she told a news briefing on Wednesday, when asked if China would support new, tougher sanctions in the event of another nuclear test.
If the North were to test a fifth nuclear device, the United States and its allies South Korea and Japan could also take unspecified “defense-related measures,” Russel said.—Agencies

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