Archive for the ‘International Governments’ Category

More North Korean coal shipments going into China, says VOA/Yonhap

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

As in the past, Chinese sanctions enforcement appears to have been a waxing and waning phenomenon. Yonhap reports, citing Voice of America:

China seems to have resumed imports of North Korean coal by lifting a temporary ban on them which it employed early last month, a U.S. broadcaster, monitored here, reported Wednesday.

On Dec. 11, China’s Commerce Ministry announced that it would ban imports of North Korean coal through the end of that month to comply with the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2321 adopted on Nov. 30 to punish the North for its fifth nuclear test. Coal is the North’s single largest export item, and China accounts for nearly 40 percent of the shipments.

Three North Korean vessels — Kumreung No. 5, Kumsan and Wonsan No. 2 — are confirmed to have moored in seas about 10 kilometers off the China’s leading coal port of Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province, from Sunday through Tuesday, the Voice of America said, citing MarineTraffic, which provides live ship tracking intelligence worldwide.

On top of that, North Korean ships Kumhae and Kumho No. 1 berthed at the ports of Longkou and Penglai, Shandong Province, respectively, and Susong and Jonwun No. 68 were also on standby for entry near the ports, the broadcaster said.

Eight other North Korean boats were anchored in seas near Yantai, Rizhao and Lanshan, Shandong Province.

The ships, which are believed to have left the North starting Sunday and arriving in the Chinese ports on Monday or Tuesday, are bulk carriers capable of transporting coal, the broadcaster said, citing MarineTraffic.

Satellite images show heaps of black objects at the Chinese ports without exception, it said.

The Resolution 2321 is aimed largely at significantly curtailing the North’s coal exports — a source of hard currency for its nuclear program — by putting a cap on its total export amount.

The cap, set at whichever is lower between 7.5 million tons or US$400 million, is aimed at cutting the North’s annual coal export revenue by more than 60 percent or about $700 million, a huge sum that accounts for nearly a quarter of its total exports estimated at $3 billion.

Article source:

China appears to have resumed imports of N. Korean coal: VOA
Yonhap News
2017-01-04

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US tightens sanctions against DPRK’s UN diplomats

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

According to Reuters:

The U.S. Treasury Department tightened sanctions against North Korean diplomats to the United Nations, requiring banks to get special permission before granting them accounts, the agency said in a notice posted online Tuesday.

The United States removed an exemption in the broad economic sanctions against Pyongyang that had allowed U.S. banks to service North Korean diplomats without getting specific permission from the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Banks will now have to obtain a special license from OFAC before opening bank accounts, processing transactions or extending credit for North Korean diplomats or their family members, OFAC said. North Korea’s U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. officials have long said North Korea uses the bank accounts of diplomats to help Pyongyang conduct business around the world, despite economic sanctions.

A U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said North Korea “seeks to alleviate its economic isolation” by bringing back currency from overseas “using all available avenues.”

For example, said another U.S. intelligence official, North Korea sells cigarettes and illegal drugs outside the country and use diplomatic packages to send the cash back home.

Washington has been ramping up economic sanctions against Pyongyang since a nuclear test and rocket launch this year, seen as provocations by the United States and its allies.

Under new U.N. sanctions adopted last month in response to North Korea’s fifth and largest nuclear test in September, countries are required to limit the number of bank accounts to one per North Korean diplomatic mission and one per diplomat.

Here is the official statement from OFAC:

Publication of Updated North Korea-related General License
12/20/2016

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has amended General License 1 pursuant to E.O. 13722 of March 15, 2016, “Blocking Property of the Government of North Korea and the Workers’ Party of Korea, and Prohibiting Certain Transactions With Respect to North Korea.” General License 1-A no longer authorizes U.S. financial institutions to open and operate accounts for the diplomatic mission of North Korea and its employees and their families. It now requires that funds transfers to or from the mission or its employees be conducted through an account at a U.S. financial institution that has been specifically licensed by OFAC.

I am generally behind on blog posts this year and plan to catch up, including coverage of sanctions, in the next.

The Reuters story can be found here:
U.S. tightens sanctions against North Korea’s U.N. diplomats
Joel Schectman; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York
Reuters
2016-12-20

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Summer trailings along the Sino-North Korean border, in search of sanctions: photo essay

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

This November, just like every  time that new sanctions are levelled on North Korea, the first question tends to be: what will China do? Unsurprisingly, the same question followed after UN resolution 2270 in March this year, when the international community adopted the strongest sanctions against North Korea to date, most crucially targeting its minerals exports. This time, some believed, would be different. China was finally fed up and would take measures to hit North Korea’s economy, and official; statements and some bureaucratic action reinforced this impression. Now, some hope that the “cap” measure on imports of North Korean coal will remove the loophole created by the “humanitarian exemption” in the previous sanctions.

By now, after the THAAD, other geopolitical developments and the sheer passing of time, the question of China’s degree of sanctions enforcement has almost faded into the background. As the Washington Post’s Anna Fifield showed in a dispatch from Dandong a few weeks ago, sanctions are at most one factor among many that impact trade between China and North Korea.

This summer, I visited Dandong, Yanji and Hunchun, three Chinese cities along the border. I got a very similar impression: sure, some people involved in border trade told me, things had gotten a little more complicated, though not much. But sanctions were rarely mentioned as the reason for any added difficulties or downturns in trade.  At the time, China’s enforcement of sanctions was very much a topic of debate, and most analysts were skeptical of any squeezing going on, while some claimed trade had virtually ceased. At my visit, on the contrary, I saw fairly vigorous trading activity, and few people I spoke to thought any changes had occurred since sanctions were enacted. Posting these impressions and pictures has been a project in the pipeline for a while, so while much has happened since this summer regarding China-DPRK relations and trade, I hope that the reader will find it interesting to see how things looked at a time when some concluded that China was finally squeezing North Korea in a way that hurt. To be clear: all impressions and pictures below are from late June of 2016.

Trailing the China-DPRK border, in search of sanctions

Dandong 

Entrance to the Dandong customs inspections area. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Earlier this year, the UN Security Council adopted the strongest sanctions that North Korea has faced to date. As with previous rounds of sanctions, one of the major questions is China’s degree of enforcement. Going back a few months, some suggested that major shifts had taken place, and that trade between North Korea and China had declined radically.

By the actual border, this summer, things looked very different. In contrast to the image of a desolated trading environment, I encountered bustling traffic during a visit earlier in the summer. During one morning in late June, around 85 trucks crossed the border from North Korea into China in only about one and a half hours. Virtually all trucks were registered to northern Pyongan province, the home province of Sinuiju. In addition, 19 cars and buses, one long freight train and one passenger train crossed the bridge during the same time. After this first stint of traffic, the flow reversed and a steady flow of trucks began pouring into North Korea from China. Only during the 15 minutes when I observed the traffic going from China, into North Korea, 35 trucks and 13 buses and cars crossed the bridge.

The traffic flowed in sequences, one direction at a time. And this was only the morning traffic. The flow may have continued throughout the day, as the traffic moved in intervals. Walking back to the customs area from the bridge crossing in the early afternoon, what was previously a calm intersection by Chinese inner-city standards had turned busy: trucks lined the entire street leading up to the customs office and some flowed over into the adjacent street, waiting to drive into the inspection area. All in all, more than 80 trucks lined the roads waiting to cross into North Korea. Most carried Chinese license plates.

Trucks lined up on both sides of the street at one of the main intersections in central Dandong, waiting to go into the customs inspection area to cross into North Korea. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Trucks, trucks and more trucks. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Trucks lined up for customs inspection along the streets of Dandong before crossing into North Korea. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Trucks lining up for customs inspection before crossing into North Korea from Dandong. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The never-ending line of trucks. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Truck driving into the Dandong customs area. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Another picture of the never-ending line of trucks. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korean trucks crossing into Dandong from Sinuiju. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

It is commonly estimated that around 200 trucks go between China and North Korea on a regular day. In sheer numbers, virtually nothing seemed to have changed regarding the traffic since the latest round of sanctions. Only the trucks observed in plain sight during this morning amount to a little under 200, and this merely during the first few hours of the day. At least 10–20, probably far more, were already in the customs inspection area waiting to cross. In short, things looked very regular and busy.

Trucks waiting to cross from North Korea into Dandong. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Some of the trucks going into Dandong from Sinuiju looked empty. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Of course, one must be careful not to draw too drastic conclusions from one day of observations. Things may have changed throughout the summer and surely during the fall, and channels such as ship transports are not visible from the border bridge area. Moreover, according to reports from inside North Korea, the authorities have expressed concerns about potentially shrinking trade volumes as a result of sanctions, and some traders now smuggle goods that are covered by the sanctions rather than transporting them openly, as they have in the past, according to Daily NK. In short, sanctions did appear to be having some degree of impact, even during the past summer.

Most North Korean trucks crossing into Dandong were registered to North Pyongan province ( 평안북도도, here abbreviated to 평북), the province bordering Dandong. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Another truck registered to North Pyongan province. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

However, the truck traffic across the Chinese border through Dandong suggested that the picture was mixed. At the very least, observations from the border area showed that even though trade in certain goods may have gotten more difficult, North Korea was by no means economically cut off from China, and still is not. Prices for food and foreign currency on North Korean markets, too, remained relatively stable through the summer from when sanctions were put in place, indicating that the economy as a whole is not feeling any drastic impact of the sanctions.

Factory materials going into North Korea from China. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Factory materials going into North Korea from China. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Most trucks transporting factory materials into North Korea appeared to be Chinese-registered. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Another Chinese truck transporting factory materials into North Korea. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

If the North Korean economic elite was worried about the sanctions, it certainly did not show at one hotel in central Dandong. Sinuiju in North Korea is only a few minutes drive over the Yalu River, on the bridge connecting the two countries. The hotel was packed with North Korean guests, many of whom have presumably come over for purchasing and meetings with Chinese business partners. They came and went in a steady stream, wearing luxury brand clothing, watches and carrying expensive bags and wallets.

They paid everything in cash, and at least one person per travel party spoke Chinese. One man held a car key with a logo from KIA, the South Korean car manufacturer. One woman sported a Hello Kitty handbag. As some got ready to depart, bags piled up in the lobby, seemingly filled with goods from shopping sprees around town. Some of it seemed to be meant for re-sale in North Korea. Many stores around the flood banks cater specifically to a North Korean clientele, and sell items like kitchenware that are not easily accessible across the river.

Many stores in Dandong cater specifically to North Korean consumers. The sign at the left bottom of the picture reads “조선백화점,” translating into “Korea department store.” Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Travelling to Dandong, it was particularly apparent why the Chinese government would be reluctant to clamp down too hard on border traffic, even if it would want to do so. Political reasons aside, trade between North Korea and China matters for cities such as Dandong. One can see it in the flesh: the streets are packed with companies dealing in imports and exports to and from North Korea. One company trades steel; another sells construction equipment such as tractors. Several sell cars and buses, and others deal in refrigerators, dishwashers, washers and dryers. One, called “Pyongyang Tongshin (평양통신),” judging by its name, offers cell phone services for traders travelling into North Korea. Should trade between the two countries drastically dive, the local economy would take a hit.

Advertisements for North Korean cell phone service Koryolink in Dandong. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

“Pyongyang Communications.” Sign in Dandong. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

One could turn these observations on their head: if so many trucks were lining up and only moving slowly into the customs area, could that not mean that inspections had gotten tighter? Was the line of trucks actually a sign that Chinese authorities did what they have promised to do?

Perhaps. But not according to people around the border crossing and customs area. I asked several individuals involved in the cross-border trade about the long lines and waiting times for border crossings. No one seemed to believe that the traffic commotion and lines were anything out of the ordinary. Both Chinese and North Koreans involved in import-export business said traffic had not changed at all during the past year or so. Overall trade had declined a bit, one person said. The trucks carried a little less than they did before, but only marginally. Coal was not traded as frequently as it was before the sanctions were put in place.

This sign lists services for one Dandong firm that offers, among other things, UPS transport services and solar-powered appliances, which have become popular in North Korea in recent years. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

But the timing of the early 2016 round of sanctions made such statements difficult to assess. China had in fact been decreasing its coal imports from North Korea at different points in time several years before the latest round of sanctions. Between 2013 and 2015, for example, the value of Chinese coal imports from North Korea shrank by almost 25 percent. Only between January and February 2014, the value of trade between the countries dropped by 46 percent. The statistics are often clouded by the fact that global market prices for commodities such as coal fluctuate heavily. There may also be a variety of seasonal factors at play. In sum, isolating sanctions as a variable is notoriously difficult, and often, numbers do not tell the full story. As of June this year, North Korean coal could still be ordered through the Chinese online shopping mall Alibaba.

Moreover, even if Chinese authorities wanted to check all goods cross with minute rigidity, one can question whether it would even be practically feasible. The customs area is not particularly large and did not appear to be overflowing with staff. Checking around 200 trucks per day for their exact goods, and determining whether its revenues could be used to fund North Korea’s weapons program – the condition stated by the latest sanctions – seems like a gargantuan task in practice.

 

Hunchun

Tourists and a truck waiting by the Hunchun-Rason border crossing (Quanhae). Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The Dandong-Sinuiju is the main point of trade between China and North Korea, but not the only one. An one-hour drive from the Chinese city of Hunchun, trucks and people come and go to and from the North Korean northeast. At the border crossing, most seem to be going to the special economic zone in Rajin in North Korea. On one gloomy Thursday in late June, around 40 Chinese trucks waited to cross. One Chinese-Korean waiting for the gates to open to the customs area told the present author that business is going very well these days. He runs a hotel in Rajin, catering mostly to Chinese tourists and business people. He has seen no dip in customers over the past year – rather, more people are coming than before. This single testimony may not be fully indicative of trade as a whole, but it does suggest that Chinese tourism remains an important and fairly viable source of revenue for North Korean businesses in Rason.

The Quanhae border crossing from afar. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Trucks lining up to go into North Korea. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

More trucks at Quanhae. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Trucks at the border crossing. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Chinese tourists lining up to have their passports checked before heading into Rason. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

This was certainly the way things looked at the border crossing. Chinese tourists came and went in great numbers, many carrying North Korean shopping bags. Trucks, too, continuously crossed the border throughout the afternoon. All in all, 80­­–100 trucks drove into North Korea during this afternoon. One was adorned with a logo from the Dutch shipping company Maersk. A few trucks came out of North Korea as well, many seeming to carry seafood destined for cities such as Hunchun and Yanji.

A truck adorning a logo from the Dutch shipping company Maersk having just crossed into North Korea from Hunchun. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In addition, a large number of buses and minivans carrying tourists and traders went in from China. Many minivans carried driving permits for Rajin clearly visible through their front windows. Given the amount of truck traffic only during the afternoon, it seems a reasonable estimate that perhaps twice the amount of traffic went through during the day as a whole. One person with good knowledge of the border area estimated that around 200 trucks go through at this crossing on a regular day, though this figure is obviously neither exact nor certain.

Customs office on the North Korean side of the border crossing. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Chinese tourists waiting to head into North Korea. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The two bridges connecting Rason to China (particularly the newly constructed one in the back). Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

These observations did not fully prove that China was not enforcing sanctions on North Korea during the summer of 2016. However, they did show that trade and traffic between the countries was still very much alive. Some goods may have be traded less, but neither sanctions nor souring relations between North Korea and China seemed to have reduced trade as much as some observers have claimed. The North Korean economy may be impacted by sanctions, but it is not and rarely has been fully isolated from the rest of the world.

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Kuwait Times publishes DPRK statement on Kim Jong-il

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

As the five year anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il arrives, the DPRK has taken to placing lauding articles of the former leader in affordable and cooperative news outlets across the world.

A reader in Kuwait sent along the story from the December 15, 2016 issue:

This is nothing new historically. The DPRK has been doing this for decades. This is, however, the most recent example of which I am aware.

Other stories about Kuwait here.

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Korean-Chinese business delegations visit DPRK

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Various overseas groups of Koreans are visiting the DPRK to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il. Most of them are mentioned fairly regularly in the official media, but a couple of the business groups were new to me. According to Rodong Sinmun (2016-12-19):

Delegation of Korean Business Persons in China Arrives

A delegation of the Association of Korean Business Persons in China led by Chairman Phyo Song Ryong arrived here Friday to commemorate the fifth anniversary of demise of leader Kim Jong Il.

Earlier, arriving was a delegation of the Association for Economic and Cultural Exchange of Korean Nationality in Dandong City of China headed by Chairman Kim Thaek Ryong.

UPDATE: They reportedly left on 2016-12-21.

Here is a link to a PDF of the original article.

If anyone knows anything about these groups (Chinese names, affiliated businesses, etc) please let me know.

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DPRK builds replica Blue House (UPDATE: And destroys it)

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

UPDATE 2 (2016-12-12): Kim Jong-un visited the nearby training grounds of “Special Operation Battalion of KPA Unit 525,” the unit that carried out the assault on the replica Blue House, on November 4 of this year. Here is the model of the actual Blue House at the training grounds:

Although Kim Jong-un visited this location in early November, these images were apparently not published until after the combat drill was officially announced on December 11. No doubt they would have given away the secret if they had been.

The model has a few discrepancies when compared with satellite imagery, but is a fairly accurate representation of the actual Blue House and its surroundings.

One soldier was also looking at this satellite image on a computer:

The caption reads (roughly): “View of US-ROK Combined Forces Command basic command post. [UPDATE] In the comments section, James Pearson at Reuters has identified this as the Yongsan Garrison ( 37.536828°, 126.983589°) in Seoul:

UPDATE 1 (2016-12-11): The North Koreans finally got around to destroying the Blue House replica. According to Rodong Sinmun (2016-12-11), Kim Jong-un watched a combat drill of Special Operation Battalion of KPA Unit 525 on the outskirts of Pyongyang:

 

 

 

Kim Jong-un appeared happy with the test:

Here is the Google Earth image of the replica:

Here is the video.

So why stage this combat drill now? Inter-Korean politics? UN Security Council meeting on NK human rights?

ORIGINAL POST (2016-4-27):

Blue-house-replica-ROK

The-real-blue-house

Pictured above: (Top) South Korean military image of the replica blue house built in North Korea (Bottom) A Google Earth satellite image of the Blue House in Seoul.

The South Korean military is reporting that the North Koreans have built a replica of the Blue House in “Dewonri/Daiwonri”. According to the Japan Times:

North Korea is preparing to blow apart a replica of South Korea’s presidential Blue House on an artillery range outside Pyongyang, in an apparent propaganda exercise, the South’s military said Wednesday.

An official with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said the North’s military had been detected building the half-sized replica at the Daiwonri range near the capital earlier this month.

“The North is apparently preparing to showcase a mock attack on the Blue House using the replica as a target,” the official said.

Around 30 artillery pieces, hidden under coverings, have been brought to the range.

“The exercise is believed to be aimed at stirring up hostility against the South, summoning up loyalty (to leader Kim Jong Un) and fueling security concerns in the South,” the official said.

I refer to this area as the “Taewon-ri (대원리) Artillery Range”, and I have previously written about it at NK News here. The Americans call the location “Sungho Dong Military Training Area”.

The South Korean military also released a second photo:

area-near-Taewon-ri

 

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The November 2016 North Korea sanctions: some perspective

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Responding to North Korea’s second nuclear test within one year in September, the United Nations adopted a new sanctions package yesterday, Wednesday November 30th. These are some of the main points:

  • By far, the most significant measure is a “cap” on imports of North Korean coal at $400 million or 7.5 million metric tons in a year, cutting its revenues by about $700 million per year. This is to supplement the current provision that coal can be imported when the proceeds go to livelihood purposes in North Korea, a provision that has proven to be a massive loophole (shocker!).
  • Four more minerals have been added to the sanctions list: copper, nickel, silver and zinc.
  • Exports of statues have been banned, targeting the somewhat peculiar North Korean practice of building statues in various African countries.
  • The resolution also limits the number of staff allowed at North Korean diplomatic missions, and forbids them from opening more than one bank account per person.

So what does this mean for the North Korean economy? Obviously, one shouldn’t speculate too much in advance. As always, China’s enforcement will be the main determinant. Here are some things worth noting:

First, while $400 million cap would certainly be a significant income loss for the North Korean regime, it might not be disastrous. It is worth remembering that North Korean government revenue from minerals exports already fluctuates heavily, since market prices do. Just for a sense of perspective, in 2015, North Korea’s export income stood at about $3 billion, and this was a decrease by 16.4 percent from the preceding year. In 2014, textile exports to China brought in around $800 million. Moreover, the $700 million revenue cut claim does not take into account the extent to which North Korea could make up for the loss through other sectors.

Second, the likelihood of full and consistent Chinese sanctions enforcement remains fairly low at best. Historically, we have seen a pattern where China will increase enforcement during certain time periods, or take single measures that receive a lot of attention (such as the Hongxiang inquiry) but where things return to normal pretty quickly. Case-in-point: the unusually strong sanctions from earlier this year, and the promises of Chinese enforcement, ending with record trade in coal. Obviously the “livelihoods” exemption provided a large enough loophole, particularly after the announcement by the US and ROK that THAAD will be deployed in South Korea. It is difficult to see why this cap would be impossible to circumvent. After all, China is (presumably) responsible for gather the data and for ringing the alarm bells when said cap is reached. (See also Adam Cathcart’s essay on the recent Sino-North Korean rapprochement at Sino-NK).

Third, and relatedly, history tells us that many, many factors other than the international sanctions regime determine Chinese imports of North Korean coal. Domestic demand is arguably far more important as a determinant than sanctions, as evident by the fact that declines in imports of North Korean coal often fluctuate much more with demand than with sanctions.

As always, we can only wait and see, but at the face of it, these new sanctions seem far from revolutionary.

(Update 2016-12-02)

Japan, South Korea and the United States have announced additional, multilateral sanctions independent from those by the U.N. Joshua Stanton over at One Free Korea argues that some of the measures potentially carry some real impact power. For example, they include North Korea’s national carrier Air Koryo. Moreover, they sanction China’s Hongxiang Industrial Development, making it the first time that a single Chinese company is directly targeted by South Korean sanctions. Yonhap:

“We have expanded the number of those subject to sanctions by adding to the list 35 entities and 36 individuals that are playing a critical role in developing weapons of mass destruction and contributing to the North Korean regime’s efforts to secure foreign currency,” Lee Suk-joon, the top official in charge of government policy coordination at the Prime Minister’s Office, told reporters.

Included in the blacklist were Choe Ryong-hae, a vice chairman of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, and Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so, director of the military’s general political bureau, both of whom are regarded as close aides for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The Workers’ Party and the State Affairs Commission were also added along with other entities suspected of supporting the regime’s efforts to export its coal and generate earnings.

In particular, Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development and four of its executives were included on the list, marking the first time that a Chinese firm is facing South Korea’s unilateral sanctions.

The company is under investigation on suspicions that it exported aluminum oxide — a nuclear bomb ingredient — to the North at least twice in recent years. In September, the U.S. blacklisted it along with its owner and other company officials.

With the latest action by Seoul, a total of 79 individuals and 69 entities will be subject to sanctions in connection with the North’s nuclear programs. The government announced a blacklist in March as a follow-up move to the UNSC’s Resolution 2270 adopted in the wake of the North’s fourth nuclear test in January.

Any financial transactions with them will be prohibited, while their assets in South Korea will be frozen. The blacklisted people will also be banned from entering the country, which is seen as a symbolic action given that there are no exchanges between the two Koreas.

Other prohibitive measures include blacklisting the North’s state-owned airline Air Koryo on suspicions that it helps its regime transfer workers abroad, and move cash and other embargoed materials into the isolated country.

The Seoul government has also toughened its maritime sanctions by banning any ships that have traveled to the North within the past one year, an extension from the previous 180 days, from entering South Korean ports.

In addition, a watch list “tailored” to enhance the monitoring on activities related to the North’s submarine-launched ballistic missile capability will be prepared and shared with the international community, it said.

Full article:
S. Korea blacklists scores of N. Koreans, entities linked to nuke, missile program
Yonhap News
2016-12-02

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China building new DPRK border crossing in Jian

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

While the Dandong-Sinuiju “Bridge to Nowhere” gets plenty of coverage as a symbol of a growing rift between China and the DPRK, the two countries are working to improve two other vehicle crossings along their shared border. You can see map of these two border crossings below.

manpho-rason-overview

The new Rason Bridge (Quanhe-Wonjong Bridge) has finally been completed in the north-eastern most corner of the DPRK.

rason-bridge-2016-3-19

In the Google Earth image above (dated 2016-3-19) we can see the new four-lane bridge taking shape next to the older two-lane bridge it is replacing. According to more recent satellite imagery available at Planet.com, the bridge is actually completed. This new bridge was announced in June 2014.

But the border crossing that has been off most people’s radar is the new Manpho-Jian border crossing under construction right now.

jian-border-2016-9-29

Pictured above (Google Earth): Construction of the new border crossing in Jian, China. Image date 2016-9-29. The orientation has been reversed so that north is actually at the bottom of the picture.

You can read some background information of this new border crossing in an article I wrote for 38 North in May of 2015. I also just published some follow-up information in Radio Free Asia yesterday.

This border crossing is interesting because it is the reverse scenario of what is taking place in Dandong. Here the North Koreans built a new Yalu River Bridge and Customs House (completed in 2012), but the Chinese have only begun construction of reciprocal border infrastructure this year.

The Chinese also built a “Free Trade Zone” at the site of the new border crossing (similar to the Goumenwan Trade Zone in Dandong) in 2012-2013, though it has not yet opened for business. Additionally buses of Chinese tourists are crossing the border to visit Manpho in the DPRK’s Jagang Province, but it is unclear if any regular commercial traffic has already started using the route. Despite the light use of the new bridge, the new border has not officially opened (scheduled to open in the spring of 2017).

Looking at the new satellite image above we can see that a new “gate-shaped” customs house is under construction at the terminus of the new Yalu/Amnok River bridge. On either side of the customs office new buildings are under construction. Just north of the bridge we can see the completed “free trade zone” (in the center of the picture) and what appears to be a shipping warehouse nearing completion (on the right side of the picture).

UPDATE: In YTN coverage of my report in RFA, they offered recent pictures of the new Chinese border buildings in Jian:

jian-bldg-1-ytn

jian-bldg-2-ytn

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North Korea exporting sand, gravel and coal to China from Sinuiju

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

An interesting example of how the transition from state-owned to private enterprise impacts the workings of certain firms. Daily NK:

North Korean ships from Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province are reportedly exporting in excess of 100 tons of sand and gravel into China each day.
“Shipping firms from Sinuiju are earning foreign currency through contracts with private Chinese construction businesses. The North Korean authorities are supporting the operations after receiving orders to finance the export of coal and sand to China. They are also providing wages and food for the workers,” an inside source from North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on November 11.
Additional sources in North Pyongan Province corroborated this information.
The source added that although the city’s shipping industry was originally a state enterprise, that is no longer the case. The industry is now run by private enterprises that deal with the domestic and Chinese markets. When the operations were state owned, there were chronic shortages of capital and sailors were forced to use sub-standard vessels. The regime’s new policy – to let the industry rehabilitate itself through benign neglect – has allowed the businesses to revitalize themselves. By exporting sand across the Yalu River into China, these businesses have earned enough capital to purchase better vessels. A number of enterprises and the associated infrastructure has grown as a result.
“As the volume of sand exported continues to rise, the shipping companies are inducing more service providers and factories to participate in the industry. The Anju Country 105 Sand Factory collects sand from the Chongchon River and transports it by way of the Yalu River to the shipping firms,” the source added.
When asked about the scale of the trade, she noted, “Sinuiju Harbor sees a daily influx of Chinese boats that carry away more than 100 tons of sand and gravel. Because exports are continuing to climb, the shipping firms are using the capital to enter new industries such as coal export.”
The North Korean enterprises see sand as an inexhaustible natural resource, the source explained, adding, “The more we sell, the better quality sand we can bring in. The enterprises are doing quite well for this reason. The factory cadres are accumulating vast sums of money, and continue to look for ways to increase their profits.”
The flourishing business has also improved prospects for workers. Laborers in the sand and gravel collection factories can earn enough money to put food on the table for a family of four – with food provided to them plus approximately 50,000 KPW per month (U.S. 6.14) for extras.
“The authorities are also using the opportunity to generate propaganda about the generosity of ruler Kim Jong Un,” the source asserted.
The revitalization of the sand collection industry is a positive development from the point of view of the authorities, as all Yalu River sand enterprises are first and foremost responsible for the supply of Kim Jong Un’s pet construction projects, such as the Ryomyong Street Project.
“The authorities can simply sit back and relax as they receive money, supplies, and credit for the success of the sand business. This reveals that the solution to North Korea’s problems is freedom of the market,” she added.
As exports continue to increase, the donju (North Korea’s nouveau riche) have expanded the scope of their interests and investments. “First, they purchase a large boat. Next, under the pretense of being a shipping business, they start to branch off into other industries to make more money. The factories give the donju the authority to do the trading and receive 30% of the profits in return,” the source concluded.
Full article:
NK exports 100 tons of sand, gravel, & coal daily from Sinuiju Harbor
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK
2016-11-15
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A hole in the sanctions, big enough to drive missile equipment through?

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Says Daily NK (with my emphasis):

Chinese authorities are said to be questioning the head of a local trade company in Liaoning Province for allegedly smuggling materials used for nuclear and missile development into North Korea. The owner and founder of Hongxiang Industrial Development based in the border city of Dandong, Ma Xiaohong, was arrested and has been under investigation for a number of weeks,  Daily NK has learned.
“Ma was arrested by Shenyang law enforcement earlier this month and is currently being questioned on suspicions of disguising military goods and equipment banned under global sanctions and smuggling them into North Korea,” a source close to North Korean affairs in China told Daily NK. “Despite the more stringent screening procedures at the customs office that were introduced from March, Ma’s company continued to smuggle banned metal and tank battery components, hiding them in shipments of apple boxes [wherein some boxes contained apples and others contraband].”
The source reported that Ma’s company also sold weapons manufacturing tools, selling dozens at a price of 10 million RMB (1.5 million USD) per piece to North Korean military contacts. By aggressively exploiting the UN sanctions for its own benefit, the firm was able to rake in huge sums of money, the source asserted.
“The profits that Ma accumulated from trading with North Korean defense companies were actually smuggling payments,” the source said. “By providing sanctioned items, Ma made so much money that she even gave Toyotas and imported cars as gifts to some North Korean cadres and Chinese traders.”
The investigation comes at a time when Beijing has come under greater scrutiny for its cross-border interactions with the North after Pyongyang defied strong UN sanctions passed in March and conducted a fifth nuclear test on September 9. Due to the recent nuclear test, some believe that the Chinese government is now moving quickly to conclude the investigation and make the results public, holding Ma’s company accountable for UN sanctions violations.
“Dozens of cadres working for Dandong’s government agencies have been instigated during Ma’s testimony, so it doesn’t look like this will have a simple conclusion,” said an additional source in China with knowledge of the incident. “Seven 5,000-ton ships operated by this company have been impounded and are moored at Donggang Port, while all of the companies that were doing business with Hongxiang are also under investigation.”
In addition, the customs office in Dandong is expected to undergo an extensive reshuffle after failing to stop banned goods on the sanctions list flowing into the North. Some 30 individuals are under investigation in relation to the case, with the central government keeping close tabs on how the events are unfolding, reported the source.
On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. and Chinese officials are targeting Hongxiang Industrial Development for its suspected involvement in criminal activities while aiding the North. It reported that prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice visited Beijing last month to inform Chinese authorities of the case, citing evidence that Ma and her company had helped Pyongyang in its nuclear development and in circumventing global sanctions.
One might wonder why the Dandong customs office would only undergo such a reshuffling now. Reports of lax sanctions enforcement have been forthcoming fairly continuously since sanctions were adopted after the 4th nuclear test — perhaps the 5th changed matters, at least for the time being.
Full article:
Hongxiang Industrial Development circumvented sanctions using apple boxes
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK
2016-09-21
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