Archive for the ‘China’ Category

A few things worth noting about China’s August 2017 import ban of North Korean seafood and iron ore

Monday, August 14th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Beijing’s Commerce Ministry has issued an order for companies in the country to comply with UN sanctions, and cease imports of coal, iron ore, sea food and other items on the sanctions list, Reuters reports:

China’s Commerce Ministry issued on Monday an order banning imports of coal, iron ore, lead concentrates and ore, lead and sea food from North Korea, effective from Tuesday, as Beijing moved to implement United Nations sanctions announced earlier this month.

The UN sanctions must be implemented 30 days after the resolution was approved in a vote on Aug. 6.

Full article:
China issues order to implement U.N. sanctions on North Korea
Reuters
2017-08-14

Washington Post also reports on the iron ore and seafood import ban:

The ban will take effect from Tuesday, the Ministry of Commerce announced.

But at the same time, Beijing warned the Trump administration not to split the international coalition over North Korea by provoking a trade war between China and the United States.

The warning comes as President Trump is expected to sign an executive memorandum Monday afternoon instructing his top trade negotiator to launch an investigation into Chinese intellectual property violations, a move that could eventually result in severe trade penalties,

In China, these proposed measures were seen as an attempt to put pressure on Beijing to act more strongly against North Korea, and at the same time an attempt to shift the blame for the world’s failure to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs onto China alone.

“It is obviously improper to use one thing as a tool to imposing pressure on another thing,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news conference Monday. “There will be no winner from a trade war, it will be lose-lose.”

[…]

China accounts for roughly 90 percent of North Korean trade but moved earlier in February to suspend North Korea’s coal imports until the end of the year. Coal normally accounts for about half of North Korea’s exports, but despite the coal ban, overall trade between the two countries remained healthy.

Last month China announced that imports from North Korea fell to $880 million in the six months that ended in June, down 13 percent from a year earlier. Notably, China’s coal imports from North Korea dropped precipitously, with only 2.7 million tons being shipped in the first half of 2017, down 75 percent from 2016.

But a 29 percent spike in Chinese exports to North Korea — North Korea bought $1.67 billion worth of Chinese products in the first six months of the year — helped push total trade between the two countries up 10 percent between January and June, compared with the same period last year.

The latest move to stem imports of iron, iron ore, lead and lead ore, and seafood products will put significantly more pressure on Pyongyang. But it is unlikely to be enough to convince Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program, which it sees as essential to its own survival, experts say.

Full article:

China bans North Korea iron, lead, coal imports as part of U.N. sanctions
Simon Denyer
Washington Post
2017-08-14

Three things are worth noting:

First, this sort of order seems to be a general routine in China’s process of complying with UN sanctions, regardless of how strict controls and enforcement actually turns out to be later on. For example, China ordered coal trade to cease in April 2016, to comply with UN sanctions on North Korea, but the trade continued, with the “humanitarian exemption” clause as the excuse. The order itself, in other words, does not seem to be anything out of the ordinary. Whether or not it is enforced in the weeks, months or even years ahead will be the real test.

Second, Chinese imports of iron ore increased quite drastically over the past few months. It is only speculation, but perhaps Chinese authorities, businesses or other entities involved here sensed that UN sanctions on the horizon would target North Korea’s iron ore exports, and decided to “backload” its imports to compensate for an anticipated shortfall later on. Chinese iron ore imports from North Korea in April 2017 were two and a half times higher than in April 2016. We’d need to see actual numbers by the end of the year to really evaluate the impact of this iron ore import ban on North Korea’s foreign currency earnings, but the higher levels of imports in the preceding months will certainly cushion some of the impact from this ban.

Third, enforcement is tricky. To state the obvious, China is a huge country. Its border to North Korea is long and traders in both countries have years of experience in sanctions evasion. The flow of goods between the two countries — much of it through one single point between Sinuiju and Dandong — is difficult to monitor. Even after China’s import suspension of North Korean coal this past winter, some of the trade continued, and perhaps still does today under the radar.

In sum, as always, only time will tell what this actually comes to mean for North Korea.

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The August 5th UNSC sanctions on North Korea: new scope, but same old tools. Will this time be any different?

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

On Saturday August 5th, the UN Security Council passed yet another resolution, 2371, following North Korea’s missile tests. Like resolution 2270 that was passed in March 2016, 2371 also takes aim at North Korea’s mineral exports. The new resolution also bans imports of seafood products from North Korea, and bans member states from hiring new North Korean laborers, but they do not need to fire ones already hired, so it is questionable whether this source of income will decrease and/or disappear, or merely stop increasing.

Unlike 2270 last year, it does not appear to contain a humanitarian exemption or any other loophole for mineral imports. In sum, the new resolution appears much more holistic than its predecessors in fully cutting off North Korea’s most central export revenues.

But while the content of the resolution is different, the tools remain the same. Its efficacy still hinges upon implementation by UN member states, and of course, above all, by China, and it is difficult to see why such implementation would be more likely this time. Both President Trump and the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, have made a big number of China’s and Russia’s vote in favor of the resolution. WSJ reports:

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley praised the councils solidarity, saying more days like this one were needed at the United Nations. She also personally thanked China for helping move the resolution from talk to action. The U.S., which had drafted and put forward the resolution, negotiated for more than a month with China over the text and final measures targeting Pyongyang.

This resolution is the single largest economic sanctions package ever leveled against the North Korean regime, said Ms. Haley, adding the council had put the country and its leadership on notice and what happens next is up to North Korea.

President Donald Trumpsaid on Twitter, The United Nations Security Council just voted 15-0 to sanction North Korea. China and Russia voted with us. Very big financial impact!

However,both China and Russia voted in favor of UNSC 2270 as well, and there are still abundantly clear signs that China did little to implement the ban on imports of North Korean minerals. Had UNSC 2270 been implemented in full, North Korea’s export revenues would already have been badly hit.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Bank of Korea announced a few weeks ago its estimate that the North Korean economy grew by close to four percent last year. One should read those numbers with a very,veryhefty dose of skepticism, given the difficulty in estimating anything relating to the North Korean economy, but at the very least, we can safely conclude that the North Korean economy is not in dire straits. Its foreign trade increased by close to five percent last year, according to KOTRA. Though there have been several reports suggesting difficulties for companies involved in cross-border trade between China and North Korea over the past year, there are no indications that China has implemented the near-blanket-ban in minerals trade that the UNSC resolution from March last year mandates.

So why would this time be any different? My guess is that it won’t be. It is very difficult to imagine that China would have voted in favor of a resolution that would hit North Korea’s economy so badly if it would really have believed that such a resolution would be fully implemented. The basic political dynamics remain: China does not want North Korea to crumble, and China craves geopolitical stability above everything else.

As always, only time will tell. But those who applaud this resolution as a new and radical turn on the global stage in the North Korea issue may want to look back at historical precedent, and moderate their expectations.

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UN security council adopts sanctions banning imports of wide range of North Korean goods

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein:

On Saturday August 5th, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution banning member states from importing North Korean export goods such as minerals and seafood products, and from hiring North Korean laborers. Wall Street Journal:

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley praised the councils solidarity, saying more days like this one were needed at the United Nations. She also personally thanked China for helping move the resolution from talk to action. The U.S., which had drafted and put forward the resolution, negotiated for more than a month with China over the text and final measures targeting Pyongyang.

This resolution is the single largest economic sanctions package ever leveled against the North Korean regime, said Ms. Haley, adding the council had put the country and its leadership on notice and what happens next is up to North Korea.

President Donald Trumpsaid on Twitter, The United Nations Security Council just voted 15-0 to sanction North Korea. China and Russia voted with us. Very big financial impact!

Both China and Russia urged a return to talks with North Korea and told the Security Council that the U.S. must abandonits military exercises with South Koreaand dismantlethe missile-defense system in South Korea known as Thaadbecause North Korea perceived that as a threat and it undermined the security of the region.

We stress that additional restrictions cannot be an end to themselves, they need to be a tool to engage in dialogue, said Russias new ambassador to the U.N., Vassily Nebenzia.

The nine-page resolution steps up trade restrictions with Pyongyang by aiming to cut off a third of its $3 billion annual export revenue. It bans North Korea from trading coal, iron, lead, iron and lead ore, and seafood.

The resolution also prohibits countries from hiring North Korean laborers and bans countries from entering or investing into new joint ventures with Pyongyang.

Diplomats and sanctions experts have long warned that export revenues, even remittances from foreign workers, are cycled back to North Koreas military and nuclear programs.

A Security Council diplomat offered this estimate on North Koreas foreign revenue earnings in 2017: $295 million from seafood; $251 million from iron and iron ore, and $400 million from coal trade.

North Koreans work in China, Russia and the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf in a variety of businesses ranging from factories to restaurants and nightclubs and are estimated to send home several billion dollars in revenue, a large portion of which the government claims, according to U.N. sanctions experts.

The new resolution restricts North Koreas technology trade and tightens enforcement of sanctions on North Korean vessels by banning violators from entering ports around the world.

Under the resolution, North Koreas Foreign Trade Bank, which handles foreign exchange, will be added the U.N.s sanctions list that freezes the assets of targeted entities.

It remains to be seen whether the new sanctions will deter North Koreas pursuit of advanced ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons or bring its leader Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table.

North Koreas economy has managed to stay afloat largely because China, its main trade partner, and Russia and some African nations havent fully enforced existing U.N. sanctions. The U.S. Treasury in June sanctioned Chinese entitiesprimarily banks and shipping companiesand individuals for violating sanctions and conducting trade that contributed to North Koreas military and nuclear program.

Chinas Ambassador Liu Jieyi said his country denounced unilateral sanctions by the U.S. and said action against North Korea must be through the U.N. mechanism. Mr. Liu told the council he welcomed the U.S. position that it wasntseeking regime change in North Korea.

China has always been firmly opposed to chaos and conflict in the [Korean] peninsula, Mr. Liu said.

Although China and Russia have pushed for a resumption of the six-party talks with North Korea, disagreement remains on how to bring Washington and Pyongyang to the table. China and Russia have called for a freeze-for-freeze plan under which North Korea would halt any more military or nuclear action and the U.S. would end its military exercises with South Korea.

Full article here:
North Korea Hit by $1 Billion Sanctions After Missile
Farnaz Fassihi
Wall Street Journal
2017-08-5

 

The UN summary of the resolution reads as follows:

The Security Council today further strengthened its sanctions regime against the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, condemning in the strongest terms that countrys ballistic missile launches and reaffirming its decision that Pyongyang shall abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.

Unanimously adopting resolution2371(2017) under Article41, ChapterVII of the United Nations Charter, the 15-nation Council decided that the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea shall not supply, sell or transfer coal, iron, iron ore, seafood, lead and lead ore to other countries.

Expressing concern that Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea nationals working abroad were generating foreign export earnings to support the countrys nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, it also decided that all Member States shall not increase the total number of work authorizations for such persons in their jurisdictions, unless approved by the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution1718(2006).

Through the text, the Council decided that States shall prohibit the opening of new joint ventures or cooperative entities with the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea entities and individuals, or expand existing joint ventures through additional investments. In addition, it decided that Pyongyang shall not deploy or use chemical weapons and urgently called for it to accede to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and Their Destruction.

Also through the resolution, the Council named nine individuals and four entities to be subject to a travel ban and asset freeze already in place, as well as to request that the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) issue special notices with respect to designated individuals.

In addition, it reaffirmed that its provisions were not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, and that the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution1718 (2006), on a case-by-case basis, exempt from sanctions those activities that would facilitate the work of international and non?governmental organizations engaged in assistance and relief activities for civilian benefit.

Furthermore, through the text, the Council called for the resumption of the Six-Party Talks between China, Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and the United States towards the goal of a verifiable and peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Speaking after the resolutions adoption, the representative of the United States said the Council had put the Democratic Peoples Republic of Koreas dictator on notice by increasing the penalty of its ballistic missile activity to a whole new level. All Member States must do more to put more pressure on that country, she said, adding that the United States would take defensive measures to protect itself and its allies, including through joint military exercises.

Chinas representative said that, while todays resolution had imposed further sanctions, it did not intend to negatively impact such non-military goods as food and humanitarian aid. Calling on all parties to implement the resolutions provisions fully and earnestly, he recalled that China and the Russian Federation on 4July had put forward a road map to resolve the issue through two parallel tracks denuclearization and the establishment of a peace mechanism. Recalling that the United States had recently indicated that it was not pushing for regime change or for the Korean Peninsulas reunification, he said an escalation of military activities would be detrimental to all countries of the region.

Japans delegate said the sheer number and frequency of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Koreas nuclear and ballistic missile tests show how unprecedented and unacceptable these provocations are. Not only was the quantity outrageous, but the qualitative advancements were alarming. Noting that todays resolution would reduce the Democratic Peoples Republic of Koreas revenue by approximately $1billion, he said all Member States must demonstrate renewed commitment to implement the Councils decisions.

The Russian Federations representative, while calling on the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea to end its banned programmes, said progress would be difficult so long as it perceived a direct threat to its security. Emphasizing that military misadventures risked creating a disaster, he said sanctions must be a tool for engaging Pyongyang in constructive talks rather than to seek the countrys economic asphyxiation.

The Republic of Koreas delegate said that Pyongyangs missile provocations on 4and 28July, together with its nuclear programme, posed a grave threat to international peace and security. Indeed, such reckless acts of defiance should be met with stronger measures, he said, adding that additional sanctions contained in resolution2371(2017) would significantly cut off the inflow of hard currency that would otherwise have been diverted to illicit weapons programmes.

Full article:
Security Council Toughens Sanctions Against Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea,Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2371 (2017)
United Nations Meetings Coverage
2017-08-05

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New Chinese investment in the Yalu bridge

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In 2010, North Korean and Chinese authorities decided to build a new bridge across the Yalu River, which is currently estimated to carry 70 percent of all trade between the countries. I recently spoke with a diplomat who was previously based in North Korea, who told me that the current bridge is rather decrepit, and particularly so on the North Korean half. The new bridge was partially built due to an expectation that trade would increase between the two countries, an expectation that seems to have been true for the past few years, including 2016 when North Korea was supposedly under harsh sanctions by the international community.

North Korea, however, has not yet constructed roads to cities on its side of the bridge, making it largely useless. Now, a Chinese businessman has decided to invest in the project — unclear if this is for any expectations of financial gain. Daily NK reports:

Anticipation for the opening of the new Amrok (Yalu) River Bridge connecting Dandong (Liaoning Province, China) with Sinuiju (North Pyongan Province, North Korea) has risen after a Chinese businessman decided to invest money in the projects infrastructure.
The construction of the new Yalu River Bridge was initiated in December 2010 with the expectation that it will bring an expansion of the trade volume between China and North Korea. The bridge was completed in 2014 after overcoming significant issues. However, the construction of roads on the North Korean side slowed to a halt, delaying further progress.
Recently, a Chinese businessman has announced his decision to invest in North Korea’s road construction efforts, which have remained the biggest obstacle to the opening of the bridge.
A source familiar with North Korean affairs in China told Daily NK on July 24 that according to North Korean traders in Sinuiju, a Chinese businessman has committed 300 million RMB (about US$44.7 million) to the road construction project.
The construction of the new bridge was first proposed due to safety concerns regarding the existing Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, which although derelict, has been responsible for more than 70% of bilateral trade. The bridge was repaired twice last year alone, highlighting its significant structural issues.
Aware of the situation, China sponsored the construction of a two-way (four-lane) road in the area, paying for the entire construction expenses totaling 2.2 billion RMB (approx US$327 million).
However, the source noted that North Korea suspended the construction of roads between the bridge and North Korean cities, demanding further investment from China.
“North Korea has been continuously demanding investment from Chinese businessmen, threatening them with a suspension of trade unless they invest. It seems that these efforts have produced results,” he said.
But actual construction has yet to start. When asked about this, the source said it is presumably due to the tense bilateral relations between China and North Korea, as well as international sanctions and overall political climate.
Full article:

Chinese investment breathes new life into new Yalu River Bridge
Daily NK
2017-08-02

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North Korea’s economy grew by almost 4 percent in 2017, says BOK

Friday, July 21st, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yonhap reports:

The estimated expansion of the gross domestic product (GDP) represents a sharp turnaround from 2015 when the economy of one of the world’s most isolated countries shrank 1.1 percent due mainly to a drought.

Last year’s growth is the highest since 1999 when North Korea’s economy expanded 6.1 percent, according to the Bank of Korea (BOK).

North Korea’s economy expanded 1.2 percent on average between 2012 and 2016, a sign that its economy is mired in low growth.

There are no indications that the North’s economy has suddenly improved since late 2011 when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took power on the sudden death of his father and long-time leader Kim Jong-il, an official said.

“North Korea’s economic structure is very fragile and is not really set up for high growth,” the official spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The BOK estimated North Korea’s gross national income (GNI) stood at 36.4 trillion won (US$32.4 billion) in 2016. South Korea’s per-capita GNI stood at 31.98 million won, which is 22.1 times larger than the North’s 1.46 million won.

Related to last year’s growth, the central bank said North Korea’s mining industry grew 8.4 percent, the highest since 1999 when it expanded 14.2 percent.

North Korea’s trade volume came to $6.55 in 2016, up 4.6 percent from a year earlier, the BOK said. The increase came despite tightened U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea over its repeated nuclear tests and its long-range rocket launches.

The sanctions call for, among other things, a ban on the country’s exports of coal and other mineral resources to cut off North Korea’s access to hard currency.

Still, the provision will not apply if transactions are determined to be exclusively for livelihood purposes and unrelated to generating revenue for North Korea’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs or other activities prohibited by previous U.N. resolutions.

China accounts for nearly 90 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade, and mineral resources are a key part of their bilateral trade.

Full article:

N. Korea’s economy grew 3.9 pct in 2016: BOK

Yonhap News

2017-07-21

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China-North Korea trade up in the first half of 2017

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

‘Tis the season yet again for Chinese customs data. Imports are down, but exports are up even more. Reuters:

China’s trade with isolated North Korea rose more than 10 percent in the January-June period from a year earlier, a Chinese official said on Thursday, amid pressure from the United States for Beijing to pressurize its troublesome neighbor.

Last week U.S. President Donald Trump denounced China’s trade with North Korea, saying it had grown almost 40 percent in the first quarter, and cast doubt on whether Beijing was helping to counter the threat from North Korea.

China has repeatedly said it is fully enforcing United Nations sanctions on nuclear-armed North Korea and there is nothing wrong with what it terms “normal” trade with Pyongyang, referring to areas not covered by sanctions.

Chinese customs spokesman Huang Songping told a briefing on China’s overall trade figures that total trade with North Korea expanded by 10.5 percent to $2.55 billion in the first six months of the year.

While China’s imports from North Korea dropped 13.2 percent to $880 million in the period from January to June, exports to North Korea rose 29.1 percent to $1.67 billion, he said.

The exports were largely driven by textile products and other traditional labor-intensive goods not included on the United Nations embargo list, Huang added.

“As neighbors, China and North Korea maintain normal business and trade exchanges,” he said, adding that goods for ordinary people and those used for humanitarian reasons are not subject to sanctions.

Overall trade growth with North Korea slowed in June, compared with previous second-quarter months.

Trade in dollar terms with North Korea rose about 12 percent in June from a month earlier to $499 million, according to Reuters calculations based on previously released data.

The calculations do not reflect revisions to earlier figures that may not have been announced.

In May, trade with North Korea gained 14.5 percent from April to $443.5 million, previously released customs data show.

Numbers showing an increase are not evidence that China is failing to enforce U.N. resolutions, with imports from North Korea falling every month since March, Huang added.

China suspended imports of North Korean coal in February, while imports of iron ore accord with relevant U.N. resolutions, he said.

“China customs have all along fully, accurately, conscientiously and strictly enforced relevant Security Council resolutions.”

Full article:
China trade with sanctions-struck North Korea up 10.5 percent in first half
Fang Cheng and Ben Blanchard
Reuters
2017-07-13

As Washington Post reports (citing Kent Boydston’s data), this makes for one massive trade deficit for North Korea. Something seems to be odd with the data, which itself isn’t that odd in this context. A Chinese spokesperson explained the trend as follows:

Monthly figures were more representative of the trend, he said, and Chinas imports from North Korea had been falling sharply for four consecutive months since March, including by 36percent in March and 42percent in April.

The trade growth between China and North Korea in the first half of the year was mainly driven by exports, Huang said, adding that the exports were mainly labor-intensive products such as textiles, which are not banned under U.N. resolutions.

Letting North Korea run a trade deficit of this magnitude sure would be awfully selfless of China, unless North Korea is somehow borrowing to make up for it, which seems highly unlikely.

Wall Street Journalalso reported the trade data:

The rise in trade was driven by a 29.1% increase in exports from a year earlier, while imports fell 13.2%, said Huang Songping, spokesman for the General Administration of Customs, at a briefing Thursday. He said China was abiding by U.N. sanctions comprehensively, carefully, accurately and seriously and that the first-half data doesnt reflect Beijings current stance on its neighbor.

He said imports from North Korea have fallen for the past four months and all coal imports were made in the first two months of the year, beforeChina suspended coal purchases from Pyongyang. He said coal imports were down 74.5% for the full first half from a year earlier.

Goods exported to North Korea were largely items such as textile products not covered by sanctions, Mr. Huang said.

China is by far North Koreas biggest trading partner, accounting for more than 80% of the hermit states external trade for the past five years. AfterNorth Koreas successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missileon July 4, U.S. President Donald Trump in a tweet cited a rise in Chinas trade with Pyongyang in the first quarter,questioning Beijings willingness to ratchet up pressure on its neighbor.

The U.S. has since stepped up its rhetoric, moving toward unilaterally tightening sanctions, targetingChinese companiesandbanksthe U.S. says are funneling cash into Pyongyangs weapons program.

Beijing has resisted suggestions it isnt doing enough to pressure North Korea, countering that Washington must directly engage Pyongyang to dissuade its nuclear ambitions. China backed tougher U.N. sanctions last year on North Koreas coal exports, while ensuring an exemption for humanitarian needs. Chinese officials say the Februarysuspension of imports of North Korean coalfor the rest of this year was part of efforts to enforce those sanctions.

Chinas Foreign Ministry says Beijing has played an indispensable role in trying to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. On Thursday, a ministry spokesman said Chinese imports of iron ore in the first half were allowed under the U.N. sanctions as they are for civilian use and generate no income for North Koreas nuclear-weapons program.

The data on the customs agencys website didnt break out iron-ore imports from North Korea in the first half.

Chinas imports of the steelmaking material from all countries jumped 16% from a year earlier in June and rose 9.4% for the first half, customs data showed, as a lasting property boom has spurred demand from the construction sector.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, also reaffirmed Beijings commitment to the U.N. sanctions. China is implementing the [North Korea]-related resolutions in a full and strict manner, he said.

In the first quarter, total trade between China and North Korea grew 29.2% from a year earlier, according to Chinese customs data. Both the first-quarter and first-half increases were in dollar terms.

Full article:
China Defends Its Growing Trade With Sanctioned North Korea
Liyan Qi and Chun Han Wong
Wall Street Journal
2017-07-13

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Washington Post interviews Ri Jong Ho

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A little over a week after theKyodo News interview, Washington Post has also talked to Ri Jong Ho, the former official from Bureau 39 who now lives in Washington DC. The main takeaway from the interview I think, from an economic point of view, is just how far the North Korean economy has gone in its adaptation to its international environment. Rigidity through flexibility, one could call it:

We were never in pain or hurting in our trade business because of the sanctions. Instead, we conducted our first nuclear test in 2006, Ri said in an interview near Tysons Corner.

The 59-year-old, whose job had been to raise money for the North Korean regime, and his family live in Northern Virginia, having defected to South Korea at the end of 2014 and moved to the United States last year.

I used to be sanctioned, as a North Korean who led trade at the front line, but I never felt any pain from the sanctions. The sanctions were perfunctory, Ri said.

He described being able to send millions of U.S. dollars to North Korea simply by handing a bag of cash to the captain of a ship leaving from the Chinese port city of Dalian, where he was based, to the North Korean port of Nampo, or by giving it to someone to take on the train across the border.

In first the nine months of 2014 he defected in October that year Ri said he sent about $10 million to Pyongyang this way.

[…]

Unless China, Russia and the United States cooperate fully to sanction North Korea, it will be impossible to hurt them, Ri said.

Chinas interest in North Korea is well known, butRussias rolein supporting the former Soviet client stateis often overlooked.Amid calls for China to limit oil exports to North Korea, Russia has dramatically increased the amount of oil it has sent some reports suggest exports have quadrupled to North Korea this year.

North Koreas financial networks, moreover, are intentionally murky. The U.S. Treasury has sanctioned more and more North Koreans and North Korean companies by name to try to cut them off from the American financial system, but few, if any, have any exposure to the United States.

For this reason, Ris insights are widely sought after in Washington, where successive administrations have been trying to find North Koreas pressure points.

[…]

Ri said he worked as president of a shipping companyand was chairman of Korea Kumgang Group, a company that formed a venture with Sam Pa, a Chinese businessman, to start a taxi company in Pyongyang.Ri suppled a photo of him and Pa aboard a jet to Pyongyang.

He was awarded the title hero of labor in 2002 for his efforts, and said he lived the good life in Pyongyang, with a color TV and a car. I was very loyal to Kim Jong Il, so I was rewarded by him, he said. I was rich.

His last position was running the Dalian branch of Daeheung, a trading company involved in shipping, coal and seafood exports, and oil imports.The company was given targets to meet in terms of profits, he said, declining to go into details.

Butin 2014,Ri grewincreasinglydisillusioned afterKim Jong Un suddenly denounced his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, as a traitor for all ages and had him executed at the end of 2013.

Jang had been leading economic cooperation efforts with China, and dozens of people who worked for him were also purged at the time, Ri said. He worried that his family would be next. They escaped to South Korea before moving to the United States, where his two children, now in their 20s, plan to go to college.

[…]

Ri said North Korea has repeatedly found ways to circumvent whatever sanctions are imposed on it.

North Korea is a 100 percent state enterprise, so these companies just change their names the day after theyre sanctioned, he said. That way the company continues, but with a different name than the one on the sanctions list.

Ris Chinese counterparts werent bothered, either, he said.

My partners in China also want to make a profit, so they don’t care much about sanctions, he said. When the Chinese government orders them to stop, they stop for a few days and then start up again.

Growing impatient with Beijing, Washington is increasingly targeting Chinese companies that help North Koreawith what are called secondary sanctions.At the end of last month, the Trump administration blacklisted the Bank of Dandong, located on the border between the two countries, for its dealings with North Korea.

But without knowing how to really hurt North Korea and teaming up to do it, it will be impossible to change Pyongyangs calculus on the nuclear program, Ri said.

Full article:

He ran North Koreas secret moneymaking operation. Now he lives in Virginia.
Anna Fifield
Washington Post
2017-07-13
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What about the Chinese companies that depend on trade with North Korea?

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Domestic conditions within China are often underestimated as a factor when it comes to the country’s enforcement of sanctions against North Korea. In the grand scheme of things, they may not be a major constituency, but it is difficult to imagine that for a government that values economic growth and social stability as much as China does, it would not factor in the sentiments and demands of domestic businesses who depend on trade with North Korea.

Indeed, when one travels to Dandong, the border town most central to trade between China and North Korea, one can begin to appreciate the magnitude of the trade ties between local businesses and their neighbors on the other side of the Yalu river. I have posted some pictures here. Parts of the city are almost wholly dominated by businesses and stores that cater to North Korean customers, some that are clearly tailored for private and large-scale buyers of goods like cars, machinery, kitchen items such as refrigerators, et cetera. Many companies along the border deal in export-import with North Korea.Southern China Morning Posthas an interesting story out today about some of these businesses, often an underestimated constituency in the sanctions analyses:

Su Nan, atrader along the China-North Korea border, used to be a busy man. He used to wake early in the morning, fill his schedule with endless phone calls, and in a good year close deals worth millions of US dollars. But now, all of that has gone.

We have no revenue so far this year, Su toldThis Week in Asia. In fact, we have been struggling since 2016, with fewer and fewer orders coming.

Although his company hasnt lowered his salary or laid off workers, Su said he cant help but worry. After all, we just sit in the office and do nothing, he said.

Su works at Dandong Sevsuns Trading, an export firm located in Dandong, a stones throw fromNorth Korea. Chinas 1,420km-long border with North Korea has fostered many cross-border businesses Dandong alone hosts 600 such firms by some estimates.

[…]

Since attempts to halt North Koreas nuclear tests through diplomacy have fallen flat and Beijing doesnt want a war near its soil, curbing North Koreas nuclear ambition through tougher economic sanctions has become the only choice, Cheng said.

But that worries the many Chinese whose livelihoods rely on trade with North Korea. For Su, the trader in Dandong, such a move could be a killer blow.

Sus firm helps international organisations purchase and deliver supplies of humanitarian aid to North Korea. International relief to North Korea has almost dried up in recent months, and Su said his company had likewise been struggling to stay in business.

If China suspends more trade activities, then we will have no choice but to shut down, he said.

Other Chinese traders share his concern.

Selling fruit to North Korea is the only source of income for my family. What shall we do for a living if China will no longer trade with North Korea? said Wu Xiuhua, a middle-aged Chinese woman in Tumen, a border city an hours drive from North Korea.

Like other traders, Wu used to drive her produce straight over the Tumen River; now all must apply for permits to take their goods across the border.

Since the summer months are traditionally a low season for fruit sales, Wu is able to cope with the financial losses for now. But other Tumen traders recently took to the street, she said, angry about the costly and time-consuming change.

The local authority in Tumen declined to comment.

It is unclear how many Chinese traders living along the border have been, or will be, affected by the sanctions, but Wu is not optimistic.

Many people here are running cross-border businesses, she said, adding that some of her friends had even invested in North Korea, building warehouses equipped with industrial cooling systems to store imported seafood.

All these investments will go down the drain if China cuts off economic ties with North Korea, she said.

Besides traders, any business that deals with North Korea, however indirectly, is also at risk.

At a garment factory in Fengcheng, another city near Dandong, an executive toldThis Week in Asiathat although his company did not sell to North Korea, it had hired at least 100 North Korean workers to make clothes ironically for customers in Europe and the US.

If Beijing expands its sanctions to include the hiring of North Korean workers, that would have a negative impact on our business, said the executive.

North Koreans work for a lower salary, he said. It is also hard to find enough Chinese workers, as Fengcheng, like many cities in China, faces a labour shortage.

Labour exports are considered a major source of income for North Korea.

Nearly 80,000 North Korean working overseas send up to US$2.3 billion back home annually, according to a report by the North Korean Strategy Centre, a defector group. The report said more than half of them work in China and Russia.

The factory has yet to receive any official notices that restrict hiring, but some residents say changes are already underway. A restaurant here used to have a lot of North Korean waitresses, but many have disappeared in the past few months. Nobody knows why they left or where they went, said one resident.

The only businesses that remain unaffected, and at least in some respects optimistic about the future, are Chinese companies that arrange cross-border trips to North Korea.

In fact, an agent at Dandong China International Travel Service said their business had been going so well that the company now ran the tour daily.

Many Chinese are curious about North Korea, said the travel agent, who gave only her surname, Wang. We now send more than 30 tourists to North Korea every day, with some clients coming all the way from Hong Kong and Macau.

Full article:
SANCTIONS ARE FINE, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHINESE WHO DEPEND ON TRADE WITH NORTH KOREA?
Coco Liu
South China Morning Post
2017-07-09

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US government seizes millions from big banks though to have dealt with North Korea

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reuters reports:

U.S. authorities have tried to seize millions of dollars associated with several companies that deal with North Korea, including the country’s military, from eight large international banks, according to court filings made public on Thursday.

The effort was revealed two days after North Korea tested a long-range missile capable of reaching Alaska, ratcheting up tensions with the United States and adding to worries about North Korea leader Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons plans.

Thursday’s filings show that Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the federal court in Washington, D.C. on May 22 granted U.S. prosecutors’ applications for “damming” seizure warrants against Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), Bank of New York Mellon Corp (BK.N), Citigroup Inc (C.N), Deutsche Bank AG (DBKGn.DE), HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA.L), JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), Standard Chartered Plc (STAN.L) and Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N).

Prosecutors believe the banks have processed more than $700 million of “prohibited” transactions on behalf of entities tied to North Korea since 2009, including the period after Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, the filings show.

Some of the transactions were processed for Dandong Zhicheng Metallic Material Co and four affiliated “front” companies that prosecutors said tried to evade sanctions through transactions that would benefit North Korean entities, “including the North Korea military and North Korea weapons programs,” according to the filings.

The filings did not say any of the banks knowingly violated sanctions against North Korea.

In her decision, Howell authorized warrants requiring the eight banks to accept incoming transactions but not allow outgoing transactions involving the five companies for 14 days, and thereafter to seize what they collected.

Full article:
U.S. seeks funds tied to North Korea from eight big banks
Jonathan Stempel
Reuters
2017-07-06

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Ri Jong Ho, high-level defector and former official in Office 39, says North Korea gets much more oil from Russia than previously known

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In a fascinating interview by Kyodo News’s Tomotaro Inoue, Ri Jong Ho, a former high-level official in Office 39 of the Korean Worker’s Party, makes several fascinating claims about the supply of fuel to North Korea:

North Korea secures up to 300,000 tons of oil products from Russia each year through Singapore-based dealers, a defector who formerly managed funds for the leadership has told Kyodo News, posing a challenge for the United States as it seeks to isolate Pyongyang.

“North Korea has procured Russia-produced fuel from Singapore brokers and others since the 1990s…It is mostly diesel oil and partly gasoline,” Ri Jong Ho, 59, a former senior official of Office 39 of the Workers’ Party of Korea, said recently in the U.S. capital in his first interview with media under his own name.

Ri also said North Korea relies more on Russia than China for fuel to keep its economy moving, indicating that the U.S. drive for Beijing to restrict oil supplies over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs will only have a limited effect.

“It is a wrong perception that North Korea is completely dependent on China,” he said.

Petroleum products have been shipped to North Korea by tankers leaving Vladivostok and Nakhodka, both in the Russian Far East, with the fuel widely used for cars, ships and trains, helping to support the North’s economy, Ri said.

Other sources familiar with the fuel deals said the petroleum products ending up in North Korea are often purchased by brokers who claim they are destined for China, with the items procured using forged paperwork.

Ri, who defected to South Korea with his family in October 2014, provided details of the activities of Office 39.

The secretive entity, said to have been established by former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in May 1974, is subject to international sanctions as the United States and other Western countries believe it is engaged in illicit economic activities and the management of slush funds for the leadership.

He said North Korea has been trying to reduce its economic reliance on China, Pyongyang’s most important benefactor, since leader Kim Jong Un issued an order to expand trade with Russia and Southeast Asian countries in August 2014.

The order followed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to South Korea a month earlier, during which he and then South Korean President Park Geun Hye expressed opposition to North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. It was the first time for a Chinese president to visit South Korea before traveling to the North.

Ri said the North Korean leader was “infuriated” by the visit, going so far as to call China an “enemy state,” and began taking measures to boost trade with Russia.

According to Ri, Office 39 has five central groups and systematically acquires foreign currency by sending laborers overseas as well as through gold mining and exports.

“It is an organization that manages the supreme leader’s coffers and the party’s funds to rule the country. It also leads trade activities to earn foreign currency,” Ri said. The office has enormous power as it is directly linked to the leadership and is independent of other government organs, he added.

Ri admitted that Office 39 has evaded U.N. sanctions by asking Chinese and Russian contacts to allow the use of their names for the opening of bank accounts for trade settlement.

The activities of Office 39 require the involvement of hundreds of thousands of people, including those in rural areas who produce items for export. Ri said the bureau is now headed by Chon Il Chun, first vice department director of the party’s Central Committee and a former classmate of Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s father.

A native of Wonsan on North Korea’s east coast, Ri was told to work in Pyongyang by the Central Committee in the mid-1980s. He operated a shipping company at Office 39’s Daehung group and later headed a trade control section in the group between 1998 and 2004.

The Daehung group earns revenue through farm exports and shipping operations, among other means. With exclusive rights to trade “matsutake” mushrooms and snow crabs, it was actively shipping those products to Japan before Tokyo imposed a total ban on trade with the North about 10 years ago.

The four other central groups are Kumgang, which dominates gold export activities, Daesong, involved in the shipment of processed products and intermediate trade overseas, Daesong Bank, in charge of the office’s banking operations, and a group dispatching workers to other countries.

Asked about the possibility that the foreign currency earned by North Korea is being used for its nuclear and missile development programs, Ri only said, “It is up to the supreme leader how to use the funds.”

North Korea receives 500,000 tons of crude oil each year through a pipeline from China, resulting in around 70,000 to 100,000 tons of gasoline and about 100,000 tons of diesel oil after refining, but the oil products are exclusively used by the North Korean army and are not good enough for cars that carry the elite, Ri said.

He also said crude oil purchased from other countries is refined by foreign companies based in China, leading to the importation into North Korea of an additional 50,000 to 100,000 tons of gasoline.

Full article here:

N. Korea procuring Russian fuel via Singapore dealers: defector

Tomotaro Inoue

Kyodo News

 

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An affiliate of 38 North