Pyongyang avoided global sanctions and obtained two new oil tankers for its smuggling operations in 2020, according to an analysis by Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reported UPI.
The new oil tankers obtained demonstrates “North Korea’s ability to draw upon several avenues to continue expanding its oil smuggling capacity despite U.N. prohibitions specifically targeting the practice,” the report, published Tuesday on CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative website.
In 2017, the U.N. Security Council prohibited the sale or transfer of any new or used vessels to North Korea, officially The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), without its prior approval.
The DPRK previously acquired a new vessel used for smuggling in 2019, the report said, highlighting Pyongyang’s ongoing ability to work around the U.N. restrictions.
That is because smuggling routes are already well-established. Ri Yong-ho, North Korean politician and diplomat who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Korea from 2016 to 2020, claims that North Korea buys 300,000 tons of fuel products from Russia each year through brokers abroad, largely under the radar.
U.N. resolutions banned nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum exports to North Korea by capping them at 500,000 barrels a year and, in a last-minute change, demanded the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad within 24 months, instead of 12 months as first proposed, reported Reuters.
North Korea has been under various forms of sanctions since at least 2006, and even before that, was never an integrated part of established and open world trade. The country has existed under harsh conditions long enough to learn and adapt new strategies.
Notwithstanding the ban, a March report by the U.N. Panel of Experts found that at least 121 unreported shipments of refined petroleum products were delivered to North Korea during the first nine months of 2020.
North Korea uses a variety of methods to receive illicit supplies, including ship-to-ship transfers and disguising the identities of its vessels through swapped profiles or manipulation of automatic identification system transmissions, the U.N. Panel said.
Two of the three new tankers were previously owned by South Korean companies, according to the CSIS report. The ships, called the Sin Phyong 5 and Kwang Chon 2, made their way from South Korean brokers to individuals or companies in China, the report exposed.
In December, U.S. State Department official Alex Wong said China was trying to “undo the U.N. sanctions regime” against North Korea, accusing Beijing of turning a blind eye to ships smuggling fuel and other prohibited items in its waters and allowing its companies and middlemen to trade in banned goods.
“In no other country do we see this breadth and depth of continuing illicit commercial activity with North Korea, the scale of which puts China in flagrant violation of its [United Nations] obligations,” Wong said.
China remains North Korea’s closest economic partner and insists that it abides by international sanctions, although it has joined Russia in calling for the punishing restrictions to be eased.
The CSIS report stated that China’s involvement in the prohibited oil tanker deals “does not bode well for any improved enforcement of this particular U.N. restriction.”
“If North Korea was able to acquire new oil vessels without much trouble in 2019, and from its southern neighbor in 2020, it will likely find it even easier in 2021,” the report concluded.
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