Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
US President Donald Trump Monday placed North Korea back onto a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that allows Washington to impose new sanctions on Pyongyang. North Korea was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1988 after it reportedly bombed a South Korean passenger jet in 1987, but was later removed from the list in 2008 by then US president George W. Bush who saw it as a bargaining chip to halt Pyongyang's nuclear activities. Amid aggravated tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Trump's decision to return Pyongyang back to the list was immediately thrust into media spotlight.
The move is apparently part of efforts by Washington to apply "maximum" pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. From military deterrence to economic sanctions to the exchange of personal insults with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Trump has tried all possible means to press Pyongyang.
Given that neither the US nor North Korea seems to have prepared to return to the negotiation table, denuclearization talks look unlikely at present, and Trump is still considering "maximizing" pressure on Pyongyang in an attempt to coerce the country to yield.
Some US politicians suggest that this re-list is just "symbolic." Pressing Pyongyang to surrender is what Washington is pursuing, yet North Korea has already been pushed to the limit.
Economically, the UN Security Council has passed a number of resolutions to impose sanctions on North Korea since the country's first nuclear test in 2006. Militarily, the US has sent nuclear-powered aircraft carriers to the waters off the peninsula, and has launched several rounds of naval exercises in the region this year. Therefore, this new listing will not add much pressure on Pyongyang to voluntarily give up its nuclear ambitions.
Some argue that the terrorism designation may be counterproductive and risk inflaming tensions on the peninsula. In fact, North Korea has no alternative option but to accept the status quo.
From an environmental perspective, most of North Korea is a series of mountain ranges and hills, separated by narrow and deep valleys, and the six rounds of underground nuclear tests that North Korea conducted have caused environmental damage. A new nuclear test, if there is to be so, is highly likely to result in large-scale landslides and other environmental catastrophes. North Korea will have to take local potential ecological perils into consideration before taking any further action.
In addition, with its economy and comprehensive strength largely stifled by the UN sanctions, North Korea is not capable of taking any countermeasures against the US all by itself.
More efforts should be put in toward creating favorable conditions to bring all sides back on the right track of negotiations - the only ideal approach to settle the crisis. Forced measures are not helping, and rather, will only intensify tensions in the region.
Although economic sanctions have financially and technologically restrained North Korea's nuclear and missile progress to some degree, they cannot force the country to give up its nuclear endeavors. North Korea develops missile and nuclear weapons out of security concerns, and under such circumstances, talks are the only solution to the crisis.
The author is director of the Korean Peninsula Research Center at Tongji University. firstname.lastname@example.org