Nw York Times reports on sanctions enforcement, at Sino-DPRK border

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Just as before, China’s controls over goods flowing across the border with North Korea is spotty at best. According to a New York Times dispatch from the border, Chinese customs authorities only control a small percentage of the goods (particularly relevant parts in bold):

If recent trade here is any indication, that cooperation has been spotty at best.

Cross-border trade, legal and illegal, flows pretty much as usual, and seems to be largely unhindered by the new rules, traders and local officials said.

One of the toughest components, a requirement that countries inspect all cargo entering or leaving North Korea for banned goods, is not enforced here.

On many days, Mr. Qin’s secondhand taxis cross the bridge in a convoy of more than 100 vehicles, including trucks loaded with containers draped in shabby tarpaulins and secondhand minibuses for North Korea’s rickety transportation system. Few are ever inspected by the Chinese authorities.

China accounts for about 90 percent of North Korea’s trade. Half of that business is estimated to flow through Dandong, a boom-and-bust city whose fortunes are tied to trade with North Korea.

Virtually everything that keeps the North Korean economy afloat passes through here: Coal and iron ore come in, violating the sanctions, and crude oil flows out, exempted from them.

Smuggling is rampant. The export of North Korean rare earth minerals and gold, banned under the new rule, is one of the more lucrative revenue sources for the North Korean government, traders said. That business continues on privately owned 200-ton ships belonging to Chinese smugglers based here, they said.

The United Nations rules put the onus on customs inspectors here to judge which goods may help the nuclear program or the military, which are banned, and which are intended for civilians, which are allowed.

On a recent day, the customs checkpoint, a large outdoor parking area adjacent to the bridge, held a collection of China’s castoffs: cheap four-wheel-drive Haval passenger vehicles, discount medicines for hepatitis and tuberculosis, old solar panels to brighten dark houses.

But the customs office here lacks the staff to open all the containers, a local government official said. Like most people interviewed for this article, he spoke on condition of anonymity since there are risks to speaking candidly to foreign media about trade with North Korea.

At peak times, up to 200 trucks a day cross the Yalu River to Sinuiju, North Korea. Before departing, only about 5 percent of the containers they carry are inspected, the official said.

[…]

Virtually everything that keeps the North Korean economy afloat passes through here: Coal and iron ore come in, violating the sanctions, and crude oil flows out, exempted from them.

Smuggling is rampant. The export of North Korean rare earth minerals and gold, banned under the new rule, is one of the more lucrative revenue sources for the North Korean government, traders said. That business continues on privately owned 200-ton ships belonging to Chinese smugglers based here, they said.

The United Nations rules put the onus on customs inspectors here to judge which goods may help the nuclear program or the military, which are banned, and which are intended for civilians, which are allowed.

On a recent day, the customs checkpoint, a large outdoor parking area adjacent to the bridge, held a collection of China’s castoffs: cheap four-wheel-drive Haval passenger vehicles, discount medicines for hepatitis and tuberculosis, old solar panels to brighten dark houses.

But the customs office here lacks the staff to open all the containers, a local government official said. Like most people interviewed for this article, he spoke on condition of anonymity since there are risks to speaking candidly to foreign media about trade with North Korea.

At peak times, up to 200 trucks a day cross the Yalu River to Sinuiju, North Korea. Before departing, only about 5 percent of the containers they carry are inspected, the official said.

[…]

There is, however, evidence of some enforcement in one important area: North Korea’s sale of coal and iron ore, two of its most important exports.

Port authorities here have been fairly vigilant in enforcing the new ban on North Korea’s ragged fleet of more than two dozen cargo ships, two local officials said. The coal they carry earns North Korea as much as $1 billion a year, according to the United States Treasury.

But that ban has been circumvented by smuggling ships and by the transfer of 12 North Korean ships to Chinese ownership, allowing them to dock at Chinese and other ports, a longtime trader, Mr. Yu, said.

A few traders interviewed here said the new rules had crimped their business.

Mr. Zhang, a trader who does tens of millions of dollars a year in business with North Korea, said customs officials had just impounded a big secondhand excavator he had bought from a coal mine in Shanxi Province and sold to a North Korean coal mine for more than $60,000.

Customs inspectors asked how he knew the equipment would not be transferred to the North Korean military. “We didn’t know how to answer,” he said.

But traders and officials expect that after some initial minor squeezing, whatever enforcement there is will be relaxed. Liaoning Province, where Dandong is a prominent city, ranked at the bottom of China’s 31 provinces for economic growth last year, and there was political pressure not to weaken the economy further.

Full article here:

A Hole in North Korean Sanctions Big Enough for Coal, Oil and Used Pianos

Jane Perlez and Yufang Huang

New York Times

03/01/2016

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