North Korea sanctions
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An image released by Japan’s defence ministry purporting to show a small vessel of unknown nationality lying alongside a North Korean-flagged tanker last month in the East China Sea. Photo: Handout

China and Russia thwart US-led bid to call out North Korea on UN sanctions violations

  • Pyongyang’s main suppliers of petroleum products block Security Council committee declaration of cap breach

China and Russia have again blocked a UN Security Council committee from declaring that Pyongyang breached its annual cap on imported refined petroleum products, imposed as part of international sanctions against North Korea.

Two United Nations diplomats said on Tuesday that the Russians and Chinese notified the committee monitoring North Korea’s compliance before the deadline for objections. The Russians and Chinese are the main suppliers of petroleum products to North Korea.

It was a repeat of last July when China and Russia blocked a similar request from the US to get the UN sanctions committee to publicly accuse North Korea of violating the annual quota for refined petroleum products, which are key to the country’s economy.

The United States and 25 other countries have accused North Korea of violating UN sanctions by importing far more than the annual limit of 500,000 barrels of refined petroleum products.

US ‘gift’ to China carries pointed message from the Pentagon

A US-led complaint had asked the sanctions committee to rule that Pyongyang breached the cap and demand an immediate halt to deliveries. It said most of the excess petroleum products were obtained from dozens of illegal ship-to-ship transfers.

A Security Council diplomat said North Korea was believed to have obtained 3.5 million barrels of refined petroleum in 2018, seven times the limit.

So far in 2019, North Korea had already imported more than the limit and was “on pace” to obtain about the same amount as last year through illegal ship-to-ship transfers, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly.

The complaint said the 500,000-barrel annual limit on refined petroleum products was “critical to maintaining pressure” on North Korea to achieve the denuclearisation of the country.

The Security Council imposed sanctions on North Korea after its first nuclear test explosion in 2006 and has made them tougher and tougher in response to further such tests and its increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile programme.

UN investigating 20 countries for North Korea sanctions violations

Many diplomats and analysts credit the sanctions, which have sharply cut North Korea’s exports and imports, with helping promote the thaw in relations between North Korea and South Korea, and the two summits between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Negotiations between the US and North Korea have been at a standstill since the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi in February broke down over what the US described as excessive North Korean demands for sanctions relief in exchange for only a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

The quota on refined petroleum products was one of the tough sanctions imposed by the Security Council in December 2017 in response to North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile that Pyongyang said could reach anywhere on the US mainland.