China and South Korea insist they will enforce UN sanctions on North after coal shipments claim
Both Beijing and Seoul insist they will uphold sanctions after UN report highlights coal shipments that arrived in port after ban came into force
China and South Korea vowed to uphold the sanctions regime on North Korea after a UN committee accused the two countries of being reluctant to enforce a ban on coal exports from the North.
Five direct North Korean coal shipments arrived in China last August, according to the UN North Korea Sanctions Committee report.
It also said that two shipments, sent from a Russian port 2,000km (1,200 miles) away from the Korean peninsula, had arrived in South Korea in October.
The Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Friday that China had obeyed the UN Security Council resolution.
It added that coal imports shipped before August 2017 were legitimate.
The five Chinese shipments, which arrived in Bayuquan, Nantong and Guangzhou in August, had been sent from the North Korean ports of Nampo and Taean in June and July.
“The Chinese side has always implemented the Security Council resolutions comprehensively and strictly, and the relevant departments have issued an announcement for this purpose,” a ministry statement said.
“If China is to report relevant import data to the Security Council’s North Korea Sanctions Committee, [China will provide] completely open and transparent [data], and it will comply with the relevant provisions of the Security Council resolution,” it added.
Seoul also promised not to violate the sanctions regime, adding that the government was investigating two shipments, which the UN report said had been sent from Kholmsk on Sakhalin island to the ports of Incheon and Pohang.
The report claimed that the delivery to Pohang alone was valued at US$325,000.
South Korean foreign affairs ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said earlier this week that Seoul was “making diplomatic efforts, by closely cooperating with the international community and the sanctions committee, so that the UN Security Council can implement its sanctions”.
“I’m aware of an ongoing investigation by the authorities,” Noh added.
Beijing has recently promised to restore its economic ties with Pyongyang.
President Xi Jinping told North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that he would support North Korea’s efforts to develop the economy during Kim’s third visit this year to China last month.
UN diplomats said that on Thursday Russia and China delayed a United States push for a UN Security Council committee to ban refined petroleum exports to North Korea.
The United States last week complained to the 15-member Security Council North Korea sanctions committee that, as of May 30, there had been 89 illicit ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products this year by Pyongyang, which breached the cap of 500,000 barrels a year.
But Russia’s UN mission put a “hold” on the US request on Thursday, telling the committee it was “seeking additional information on every single case of ‘illegal’ transfer of petroleum,” diplomats said.
China backed the Russian request and asked the United States “to provide additional factual information to facilitate all states to study and make a judgment,” diplomats said.
China and Russia delay US bid to halt refined petroleum exports to North Korea following accusations of sanction-breaking
Boo Seong-chan, a research fellow at the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul, said: “Easing economic sanctions sits at the centre of North Korean economic prosperity, as Kim has vowed to his people that he would move on to an economy-first policy … This means that he must show some fruits for his people in the short-term in order to legitimise his rule.
“After all, authoritarian regimes’ legitimacy to rule comes from their people’s quality of life.”
Park Ihn-hwi, an international studies professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, acknowledged that there could be loopholes in the UN sanctions regime that would allow China to boost its trade with the North.
“Some trading may be resumed, especially between China and North Korea, easing the UN sanctions regime … There may also be illegal trading at the border area,” Park added.
North Korea’s gross domestic product. contracted 3.5 per cent in 2017 compared with the previous year, marking the biggest contraction since 1997, South Korea’s central bank estimated on Friday.
Additional reporting by Reuters