Senior North Korean official visits China as Pyongyang’s drive to get sanctions lifted continues
Visit is latest attempt to court Beijing’s support after photos suggest that North Korea has dismantled missile launch site
North Korea has sent another senior official to visit Beijing and started dismantling key missile facilities as it continues its push to ease UN sanctions and boost its economy.
Ryu Myong-son, a deputy director at the international affairs department of the Workers’ Party of Korea, arrived in Beijing on Monday, state media reported, amid Pyongyang’s ongoing efforts to strengthen its economic ties with its one and only ally.
No details of Ryu’s itinerary were disclosed, but he was likely to discuss ways to enhance bilateral economic cooperation, a South Korean parliamentary source said, without further elaboration.
The North’s Korean Central Television reported on Monday that Ryu was visiting Beijing, on his way to Guinea, South Korean news agency Yonhap said.
The visit coincided with a US sanctions enforcement notice that highlighted Washington’s concerns about possible breaches of the UN embargo.
The advisory note issued on Monday night urged the international community to stay aligned with the current UN sanctions regime, with the State Department saying: “The international community cannot let up on pressure until the DPRK denuclearises.”
It highlighted evasion tactics used by North Korea that could expose businesses – including manufacturers, buyers and service providers – to sanctions compliance risks.
It added that goods, services and technologies manufactured in North Korea may be listed as being made in other countries.
Last week Beijing promised to uphold the sanctions after a report by a UN committee highlighted possible breaches by a number of countries.
Satellite images released by the North Korea monitoring group 38 North on Monday suggest that North Korea appears to have dismantled its key Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) facilities at Sohae, its main satellite launch facility.
The images taken on July 20 and 22 suggest that North Korea has begun dismantling the two major facilities at the site; the rail-mounted processing building where launch vehicles are assembled, and the rocket engine test stand where liquid-fuel engines are developed.
The US has been pushing North Korea to unilaterally dismantle its nuclear arsenal, but many observers believe it is unlikely to do so in the short term.
However, analysts argued that dismantling its main satellite launch facility may be a well-planned strategy to draw Washington to accept its “phased and synchronised” approach to denuclearisation – the two sides have yet to agree on what the term means – and win support from Beijing for easing the UN sanctions regime.
Gu Gab-woo, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the North “was taking preliminary measures, aimed at inducing reciprocal measures from the US side … Easing the sanctions and declaring the official end of Korean war sits at the top of Pyongyang’s list.”
Gu noted that the primary US concern was the North’s ICBMs, which could strike targets on the American mainland.
“It is also sending a message to Beijing to further strengthen economic ties by illustrating its goodwill on denuclearisation,” Gu added.
“As the North Korean economy is heavily dependant on China, Beijing must ease its sanctions first for Pyongyang to achieve its economic ambitions.”
Pyongyang’s drive to prioritise its economic development comes as a report by the South’s central bank last week estimated that the North’s gross domestic product contracted 3.5 per cent in 2017 compared with the previous year.
Zhao Tong, a fellow on the nuclear policy programme at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing, said while North Korea was unlikely to fully denuclearise in short-term, its will to prioritise economic development seems “sincere,” and Pyongyang is using multiple tactics to achieve this goal.
“North Korea could now demand reciprocal actions from the US to normalise its relations and to establish a peace treaty,” Zhao said, adding it was cleverly implementing strategies to keep Washington at the negotiating table.
“At the same time [Pyongyang] is sending a message to Beijing and Seoul. Its goal is to show that Pyongyang is committed to denuclearisation so as to induce economic support from the neighbouring countries, especially Beijing,” he added.