By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein
In perhaps the least surprising news there ever were, reports are now coming in regular intervals that Chinese enforcement of sanctions on North Korea is becoming less and less strict following the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Kim’s visit today in Beijing will likely speed up the process, but the Chinese enforcement of the sanctions regime would like have become less vigilant in due course regardless.
You’ll have to excuse the sarcastic tone of the title and content of this post, but this is precisely the sort of development that not just this blog, but a whole host of others too, have predicted all along. Trump’s idea that “maximum pressure” would survive through the summit and general process, regardless of what is decided, was always unfounded. That’s just not how these things work. Chinese enforcement of sanctions on North Korea depend much more on political circumstances in the region than on what sanctions the UNSC decides to level. China was always going to let down its guard once tensions de-escalated. Pressure could certainly get back on if things go back to the way they were earlier in the year, but to count on it as a matter of policy, as if it could be done easily or somehow automatically, is unwise or even naive.
To be sure, we shouldn’t draw any far-reaching conclusions from a small number of scattered news reports. But no one should be surprised if the number of reports continues to grow over the coming weeks, and if, one day in a not too distant future, Chinese customs figures of imports from North Korea also start to point upward.
I’ll be gathering articles on the matter in this post. First out is Radio Free Asia from a few days ago:
China is relaxing customs inspections and allowing restricted goods to flow across its border with North Korea, according to sources, despite making assurances that it will continue to enforce sanctions against the reclusive nation until it fully dismantles its nuclear arsenal.
A trader in China’s Dandong city, located in Liaoning province across the Yalu River from the city of Sinuiju in North Korea, recently told RFA’s Korean Service that inspections on trucks heading across the border to the North “have eased significantly,” and that customs officers who “used to check every single item following x-ray scans” are now searching “only around half of all vehicles.”
“In the past, when a truck driver got caught bringing restricted items on the sanctions list, the truck was impounded for a day and could only pass through the border if a fine was paid,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“These days, those kinds of trucks [smuggling restricted goods] are fined, but can go through customs right away.”
The trader added that as customs officers have become less rigorous about their checks, “North Korean truck drivers are beginning to regularly smuggle items that are not on their manifestos.”
A resident of Dandong, who also asked to remain unnamed, told RFA that the customs process for North Koreans who travel to his city for personal reasons is also “now much easier,” noting that Chinese customs officers used to require them to open their luggage for inspection, “but they can now pass through after a routine x-ray screening.”
“Alcohol and tobacco products are limited to one bottle of alcohol and one carton of cigarettes, but the custom officers don’t make an issue out of having two or three bottles and a couple of cartons of cigarettes,” the source said.
A businessman based in Dandong, who said he exports clothing illicitly assembled in North Korea to Japan and other countries, told RFA that crackdowns on illegal trade between China and North Korea had also been reduced in recent months, making it easier for him to earn a profit.
“I use illegal vessels to send materials into North Korea and bring out processed clothes via the Yalu River, and it has been so much easier for me to operate these days,” he said.
“It always used to take me a long time to transport the clothing, due to China’s tight security along the border area, but now it doesn’t take long at all.”
Sources in Dandong and the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Region, in northeast China’s Jilin province, said that Chinese border guards ended their tight monitoring of smuggling after Kim made a rare visit to Beijing at the end of March and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
At that time, North Korea stopped repatriating workers it had based in China to generate foreign currency for the Kim regime, and even dispatched some additional workers to the country, the sources said.
And ever since Chinese authorities relaxed their controls on smuggling activities, they added, North Korean organizations tasked with generating foreign currency have begun steadily trafficking sanctions-restricted items into China, including iron, non-ferrous metals, chemicals, and seafood.
Reports of the reduced inspections follow a historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, held on Tuesday in Singapore, during which Trump “committed to provide security guarantees” to the North and Kim had reaffirmed his “firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his Chinese counterpart State Councilor Wang Yi in Beijing and told reporters after the talks that “China has reaffirmed its commitment to honoring the U.N. Security Council resolutions” for sanctions leveled against the North for repeated ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests.
After Tuesday’s summit, China had suggested that international sanctions on North Korea could be lifted, but Pompeo on Thursday said Washington had “made very clear that the sanctions and the economic relief that North Korea will receive will only happen after the … complete denuclearization of North Korea.”
Full article and source:
China Relaxes Customs Inspections on Border With North Korea, Despite Sanctions Assurances
Radio Free Asia
Dong-a Ilbo reports that several Chinese factories near the border, employing North Korean workers, have started operations back up after being forced to a halt due to the sanctions implementation:
More than 10 Chinese factories located in the border area between North Korea and China resumed operation around Tuesday’s U.S.-North Korea summit. The number of dispatched North Korean workers that showed a downward trend this year started increasing from last month. There are concerns that China would break away from coordination for North Korea sanctions before detailed agreements about denuclearization are concluded.
According to multiple diplomatic sources, a clothing company in Dandong, Liaoning, halted operation at the end of last year when the sanctions of the global community were strengthened but started to operate again in the middle of this month. “They hired more than five North Korean workers before resuming its operation,” said one of the sources. Among more than 600 businesses in Dandong trading with North Korea, more than 100 of them stopped operation last year but a lot of them have recently resumed operation or are preparing to do so.
The number of North Korean workers in China increased by 40 to 50 last month compared to early this year, and by more than 100 this month because of more active trade between China and North Korea. The United Nations Security Council resolution 2397, which was adopted in December last year, states that North Korean workers should return home within 24 months. China actively implemented the sanctions and sent an announcement to factories to return North Korean workers until early this year, but it reportedly has not put a pressure to send them back at all recently.
Full article and source:
More than 10 Chinese factories in border area with N. Korea resume operation