South Korea talks sunshine and rare earths as North Korea warclouds gather

What’s next from North Korea?  With last month’s failed missile launch, Kim Jong Un’s regime is ratcheting up its face-saving missile-flexing to the next level, with a rumored test of a nuclear warhead.

President Donald Trump responded with his favored weapon, Twitter, launching this 140-character salvo: 

“North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!  U.S.A.”

For its part, China indeed appears to be helping — refusing to off-load North Korean coal, and turning back North Korean coal freighters bound for Chinese ports.  Add to that a sharp increase in China’s purchase of U.S. coal, and the outlines of an economic squeeze become evident. 

But if the U.S. and China seem to be exploring ways to pressure North Korea, there’s a key player missing from the economic equation:  

South Korea itself.

With its stone-age economy leaving it little of value to sell, resource-rich North Korea has long looked to metals deals with the South to bring in much-needed hard currency. For decades, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification has managed this aspect of the North Korea relationship, with an emphasis on acquiring scarce strategic materials from the Kim regimes through South Korea’s state-owned resource corporation, KORES.  

Materials such as graphite and rare earths metals are critical to the cutting-edge industries that are the backbone of South Korea’s high-tech…

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