US could be tougher on NK after Warmbier's death

By Cao Siqi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/20 23:38:39

American student Otto Frederick Warmbier (C) arrives for his trial in Pyongyang, capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), March 16, 2016. Otto Frederick Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for anti-DPRK crimes, the DPRK Supreme Court announced Wednesday. (Xinhua/Guo Yina)

The death of US student Otto Warmbier a few days after his medical evacuation from North Korea may escalate tensions between Pyongyang and Washington, and this could lead to increased US pressure on China to impose more sanctions on the regime, analysts said. 

Warmbier, 22, a student at the University of Virginia, died a week after returning home from North Korea in a coma-like state. He was arrested in North Korea in January 2016 for trying to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel wall, and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016. 

North Korea said that it had released Warmbier "on humanitarian grounds," claiming he had contracted botulism, a rare illness that causes paralysis, and was given a sleeping pill that led to his coma. His family said he was subjected to "awful torturous mistreatment," the BBC reported. US doctors said he appeared to have suffered from respiratory arrest leading to severe brain damage and had no signs of botulism.

US President Donald Trump condemned North Korea in a statement on Tuesday, saying that Warmbier's death had deepened his administration's resolve "to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency." Pyongyang is still holding three US citizens, all of Korean descent.

"The incident may push Trump to end the US policy of strategic patience and take tougher measures against North Korea. The US used to pressure North Korea via China and did not want to interfere directly too much. But it may turn to direct pressure in the near future, including armed attacks after this incident," Zheng Jiyong, director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times.

Jin Canrong, associate dean of the Department of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, said that the incident comes at a very bad time for any kind of positive interaction between the US and North Korea, and the US may instead opt for military action.

The US flew two supersonic bombers over the Korean Peninsula on Tuesday in a show of force against North Korea, The New York Times cited a South Korean officials as saying.

Zheng said he also expects the US to put more pressure on China for specific sanctions against North Korea, including on trade, travel and issues related to defectors. He added that China's travel agencies offering tours to North Korea might be the first to be affected.

Young Pioneer Tours, a travel agency based in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province which took Warmbier into North Korea, said in a statement on Tuesday that it will no longer be organizing tours for US citizens to North Korea as "the assessment of risk for Americans visiting North Korea has become too high."

The agency is operated largely by expats and  describes North Korea as "probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit."

Beijing-based travel agency Koryo Tours, which also provides trips to North Korea, said on its website on Tuesday that "we hope that everyone inside and outside of North Korea comes to know the full and true story of what happened to Otto." 

Global sanctions

The incident may also lead other countries to stand by the US and bring more global sanctions, Zheng said, noting that "during the summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Trump in late June, it's possible that South Korea will follow the US and impose sanctions."

However, Lü Chao, an expert on Korean Studies at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, called for restraint from all parties, urging the US to lodge its appeal in legal ways and North Korea to shoulder the responsibility for Warmbier's death and adopt a "correct attitude" to revealing the truth to the student's family.

Warmbier's death has also brought sympathy and anger from Chinese citizens. Reports about the student's death on Sina Weibo have received millions of comments. Many Net users slammed North Korea's tyranny and claimed that they will not go to such a "horrible country."


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