Washington, DC – U.S. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-CA), the Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the below remarks as prepared for delivery at today’s committee hearing, “North Korea after Kim Jong-il: Still Dangerous and Erratic.”
The statement follows:
Madam Chairman, thank you for calling this timely hearing.
Pyongyang’s failed missile launch--a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and carried out in defiance of strong international pressure--demonstrates that North Korea under Kim Jong-un is essentially the same as when it was ruled by his father and grandfather.
Indeed, North Korean leaders have shown a remarkable consistency in reneging on commitments regarding their nuclear and missile programs – the latest being the February 29 “Leap Day Agreement.” With the possibility of another nuclear test on the horizon, Pyongyang has shown its clear preference for provocative and destabilizing behavior.
President Reagan famously remarked that when dealing with the Soviet Union, we should “trust but verify.” With regard to North Korea, he might have said “never trust and never cease to verify.”
The fundamental questions before us today are how can the United States and the rest of the world change the North’s behavior? Is change even possible? And if not, then what should be the appropriate course of action to mitigate the North Korean threat?
Successive Presidents – both Republican and Democratic – have pursued a policy of “tough engagement” with Pyongyang. Given North Korea’s proclivity to break agreements before the ink is dry, does it make sense to continue this approach? If not, what is the alternative? Are there additional sanctions we could place on North Korea that would change their behavior? And does it make sense to tie food aid to specific actions taken by the North?
At a minimum, I believe the U.S. should do everything possible to ensure that existing U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea are fully implemented, and I welcome the recent Security Council presidential statement indicating that additional entities involved in North Korea’s proliferation activities will be sanctioned in coming days. We must also continue to coordinate closely with our South Korean and Japanese allies on how to best address the North Korean threat while maintaining a robust U.S. military presence in those countries.
By virtue of history and geography, China remains one of the few nations with some leverage over North Korea. Regrettably, Beijing has been unwilling to use that leverage to persuade Pyongyang to change course. While China may have expressed its displeasure with the North’s recent missile launch, the fact remains that Beijing serves as Pyongyang’s economic life-line, sending food and fuel to prop up the North Korean regime, and luxury goods to satisfy the North Korean elite.
China continues to play this role because Beijing fears a flood of refugees from an unstable North Korea more than a North Korea armed with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. My guess is that Beijing also likes having a buffer between itself and South Korea, a strong US ally. But by enabling North Korean regime’s reckless and aggressive behavior, which threatens regional stability, China ends up undermining its own security calculus.
And just what kind of regime is China backing? For the North Korean people, life under the young Kim is as bleak as ever, with the average citizen enjoying no real political, religious, or personal freedoms. Hundreds of thousands of North Korean political prisoners remain imprisoned in gulags. Others endeavor to escape by any means possible – even if it means crossing into China, where many refugees are forced into prostitution and hard labor.
Despite the North’s efforts to appear “strong and prosperous” this year to celebrate the 100th birthday of the country’s founder, vast numbers of North Koreans continue to face starvation. Sadly, the North Korean regime’s misguided priorities – pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into its so-called space program, its nuclear programs and its massive military -- only underscore its cold-hearted callousness and blatant disregard for its own people. China’s willingness to support such a wicked regime casts a dark shadow on Beijing’s own international reputation.
I thank the panel of experts for being here this morning and look forward to their thoughts on how to make our policy toward North Korea more effective.