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Crank up the sanctions and forget talking with North Korea, experts tell the US

Key Points
  • U.S. needs to turn up the heat on sanctions against North Korea, experts say
  • North Korea fired a missile that flew over Japan on Tuesday
  • Kim Jong-un's regime has been getting away with murder
The significance of North Korea's latest launch

The U.S. needs to turn up the heat on sanctions against North Korea, experts said on Tuesday after the reclusive nation fired a missile that flew over Japan, sharply escalating tensions in the region.

"It's long past time to increase sanctions," said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation and a former deputy division chief for Korea at the Central Intelligence Agency.

Sung-Yoon Lee, Korean Studies professor at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University concurred that the U.S. can do a lot more to pressure North Korea economically.

"It really is counter-intuitive that we don't have stronger sanctions on North Korea than on Iran, but the opposite has been true," Klingner told CNBC's "The Rundown."

More sanctions ahead?

The problem, Lee said, is that the U.S. has not been seeing its sanctions through.

"With each major provocation, the temptation to step back and return to negotiations with bigger concessions in tow, that's been the problem so far. That kind of attitude, trying to get North Korea out of the headlines, has led to premature relaxation of sanctions and North Korea has been getting away with virtually murder," Lee said.

Pyongyang's latest missile launch came on the back of several short-range missile tests on Saturday into the sea off its east coast as the U.S. and South Korea conducted annual joint military drills.

The latest missile test was "designed mostly to demonstrate Pyongyang's opposition to joint military exercises currently being conducted by the U.S. and South Korea," Scott Seaman, director for Asia at consultancy Eurasia Group, said in a note.

"It might also have been planned to occur when Pyongyang assumes that Trump's team is preoccupied with Hurricane Harvey," he added.

The North Korea problem: What of the military option?

Seaman said Pyongyang's defiance will likely spur the U.S. and its allies to expand sanctions on the reclusive regime.

Klingner added the U.S. can better engage Chinese banks and businesses to curb trade with North Korea.

The Treasury Department earlier in August announced new penalties against 10 entities and six individuals, mostly Chinese and Russian, for providing support to North Korea in ways that aided the rogue state's missile and nuclear weapons programs. The Treasury characterized the targets of its new sanctions as "third-country companies and individuals."

Beijing, Klingner said, has been "part of the problem rather than part of the the solution" on North Korean issues.

"It has turned a blind eye to North Korea's violations and proliferation occurring on Chinese soil. They certainly would know some of the illicit activity that's occurring in China on behalf of North Korea's prohibited nuclear and missile program," said Klingner.

China likely to give standard refrain

China, however, would probably give a "standard, very angry and upset" refrain on the back of the latest test, said Rodger Baker, vice president of strategic analysis at geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor.

North Korea has an end-game in mind with provocative missile tests

"The question for China is: At what point they feel the risk of the advancement of the North Korean weapons program exceeds the risk of heavier intervention," said Baker.

"The Chinese still hold out some potential for political intervention in North Korea, but North Korea has done everything they can to simply cut the tools China has," he said, citing the murder of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's elder brother in Malaysia last year.

The elder Kim was reportedly viewed by China as a potential replacement for the current leader.

"Shy of the anticipation of U.S. military action, the Chinese are going to keep playing a little harder with North Korea, tightening up borders a little bit, but making sure they don't move so far as to crack the regime," Baker said.