Archive for the ‘International Governments’ Category

China and Russia blocked US request for North Korea oil suspension at UN

Friday, July 27th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports NK News:

China and Russia have blocked a U.S. request made at the UN Security Council (UNSC) to stop oil transfers to North Korea, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN – Nikki Haley – confirmed on Friday.

The U.S. made the request following a submission of evidence to the 1718 committee that claimed North Korea conducted up to 89 prohibited ship-to-ship (STS) transfers involving oil in the first five months of 2018.

Haley, speaking alongside U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, reiterated that the U.S. had proposed the complete ban on exporting petroleum products to North Korea as the STS transfers would have exceeded the annual cap for such products established under UNSC Resolution 2397.

“China and Russia blocked it. Now for China and Russia to block it, what are they telling us? Are they telling us that they want to continue supplying this oil?” she said.

“They claim they need more information. We don’t need any more information, the sanctions committee has what it needs, we all know it is going forward, we put pressure today on China and Russia to abide … and to help us to continue with denuclearization,” she added.

Haley was speaking at a press briefing in New York following meetings between herself, Pompeo, UNSC members and officials from Japan and South Korea – including Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.

Pompeo, who spoke to the press prior to Haley’s comments, said he was also there to update the UNSC on diplomatic progress between the U.S. and the DPRK.

Sanctions enforcement, however, was at the forefront of the discussions and despite China and Russia blocking the U.S. request for the halting of oil transfers to the DPRK, Pompeo said the council was in agreement on other key elements.

“The UN Security Council is united, on the need for final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea as agreed to by Chairman Kim. Members of the UN Security Council and by extension all UN member states have unanimously agreed to fully enforce sanctions on North Korea and we expect them to continue to honor those commitments,” Pompeo said.

Full article:
China, Russia blocked U.S. request for North Korea oil suspension at UN
Hamish Macdonald
NK News
2018-07-20

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Seoul needs sanctions exemptions, official says

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

If anyone ever doubted that the US and South Korea are not in lockstep on sanctions…The question is how hard Seoul is pushing behind the scenes, and how hard it is prepared to push. Joongang:

A South Korean delegation that traveled to New York over the past weekend said Seoul needed to be exempted from some international sanctions against the North to implement the Panmunjom Declaration.

The remarks came on the same day that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that sanctions against Pyongyang will remain in place until the North fully denuclearizes.

The rare show of discrepancy between the allies came at an unusually sensitive time between the South and North, after North Korean media excruciated South Korean authorities for what it said was kowtowing to the U.S. on inter-Korean issues.

A local official said Pyongyang appeared to be fed up with Seoul’s reluctance to help the regime wiggle out of sanctions.

South Korea’s official stance has been to support sanctions on the North until the country gives up its nuclear weapons, but from time to time officials have expressed a hope to seek exemptions, especially to work out the cross-border projects that South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during their first summit on April 27.

Last Friday in New York, a high-level South Korean official who spoke on the condition of anonymity decided to convey that hope to reporters – just as Pompeo highlighted in a different news conference that all UN member-states unanimously agreed to fully enforce sanctions on the North. The official was part of a delegation led by South Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Kang Kyung-wha, who traveled to New York to co-host a briefing session with Pompeo on peninsular issues for representatives of the UN Security Council.

Soon after the briefing, the official told South Korean correspondents in New York that the South Korean government “needed” some exemption from international sanctions on the North to implement the Panmunjom Declaration, adding that it was asking the international community to grant that exemption as it was leading the North through dialogue and cooperation.

Full article:
Seoul needs sanctions exemption, official says
Jung Hyo-Sik, Yoo Jee-Hye, and Lee Seung-Eun
Joongang Daily
2018-07-23

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WSJ on South Korean firms planning for business opportunities in North Korea

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

WSJ:

After months of rapprochement—including summit meetingsbetween North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and one between Mr. Kim and President Donald Trump —hopes are rising for more open access to North Korea, a country of 25 million people with vast mineral reserves and lots of cheap labor.

Samsung C&T Corp . , the de facto holding company of South Korea’s biggest and best-known conglomerate, created a North Korea task force in May, staffed by an executive and three managers.

Samsung’s construction arm, which has built some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers and is building subway lines in Singapore and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, sees opportunity in the North as economic growth slows in the South.

Full article here:
Companies See Glimmers of Opportunity in North Korea
Jonathan Cheng
Wall Street Journal
2018-07-23

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North Korea’s negative growth in 2017: things look bad, unsurprisingly, but take the numbers with a grain of salt

Friday, July 20th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Bank of Korea (BOK) has put out their yearly estimate of North Korea’s GDP trends. This year, they estimate that the country’s GDP decreased by 3.5 percent. Off the top of my head, this seems a fairly reasonable estimate, particularly since sanctions were only in force for a minor part of the year (late fall and onward). Some quick thoughts below:

As always, remember: estimate GDP in North Korea is very, very hard. How do you evaluate, for example, the market sector versus the state sector? Given how complicated and partially opaque North Korea’s system for pricing it, how can a GDP figure even be reasonably estimated? That said, BOK has been doing this for many years, and their figures are, for all their faults and flaws, some of the most reasonable estimates among the few that exist. Still, as one of the leading experts in the field once told a class of grad students studying the Korean economy: if someone gives you a figure on the North Korean economy with a specific decimal number, you can be sure that it’s wrong.

Some news outlets have made a big number of the fact that this contraction is the largest for over two decades, according to the BOK numbers. While that is true, the proportions are very different: in 1997, BOK estimates that the economy contracted by 6.5 percent, that is, almost double the contraction of 2017. So we’re not talking about any crisis nearly as significant as the famine of the 1990s.

BOK estimates a drop by 1.3 percent in agricultural and fisheries production. Notably, still, market prices for food have looked completely normal throughout the year, as this blog has noted several times before. It’s unclear how exactly agricultural production is estimated, and what the “sector” here really means – only what goes into the state-side of agricultural production and supply, or the sale of surplus production on the semi-private markets? The latter may very well be underestimated given how tricky it is to asses what share of agricultural production still lies firmly and solely within the state system.

It’s unclear how much of the shortfall in electricity production is compensated for by items like solar panels and other forms of electricity generation increasingly prevalent on the ground. Many have noted the various creative ways in which much of the North Korean population already adapts to the shortfall and unreliability of public supply of electricity.

The estimated trade numbers are very dire but also probably approximately realistic. Though the 37 percent shortfall in exports may be an overestimate given that they (presumably) don’t account for smuggling, it is undeniable that the economy is taking a very large hit from sanctions. People who recently visited the Chinese border speak of very low levels of activity in goods transports and the like. This gives cause for some skepticism toward the reports claiming that Chinese sanctions enforcement has gone much more lax lately: it may well have, but that hardly means the doors are flung open. At the same time, imports went up 1.8 percent. Either China is letting North Korea run a trade deficit which they assume they’ll get back once sanctions are eased, or the regime has much more currency stashed away to pay with the goods for than many have thought. The truth may lie somewhere in the middle there.

 

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China investing in North Korean infrastructure, says Kyodo News

Friday, July 20th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Kyodo:

China has decided to invest 600 million yuan (about $88.4 million) in infrastructure such as roads in North Korea around a bridge connecting the two countries, bilateral sources said Friday, raising concerns that Beijing may violate U.N. resolutions.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s leadership is scheduled to start the infrastructure investment by the end of this year, the sources said, as Beijing and Pyongyang have been strengthening their economic cooperation recently.

The effective economic aid would be regarded as a violation of U.N. resolutions aimed at preventing North Korea from producing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, U.N. diplomats said.

While preparing to dispense the aid, China is expected to begin negotiations with U.N. Security Council member states with an eye on easing economic sanctions against North Korea, now that Pyongyang has pledged to work toward denuclearization, the sources added.

The new bridge over the Yalu River from the Chinese border city of Dandong, Liaoning Province, to the North Korean county of Ryongchon was completed in 2014 after four years of construction.

But roads connecting to the bridge have yet to be developed on the North Korean side, preventing it from going into operation.

Earlier this month, Liaoning authorities decided to set up a project to support the construction of the roads and the Chinese central government has already approved it, the sources said.

Since March, relations between Beijing and Pyongyang have been markedly improving, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting China for summit talks with Xi no less than three times.

The two leaders apparently exchanged views on denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and economic aid, with Kim vowing to build a “powerful socialist economy.” The North Korean leader has often visited the border near China recently.

Full article:
China to invest in infrastructure in N. Korea, may violate sanctions
Kyodo News
2018-07-20

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South Korean companies gearing up to rush north, part x

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Hardly a day goes by without a new article on South Korean companies or business interests eyeing investments in North Korea as a golden opportunity. Here’s the Korean Tourism Association (from Joongang Daily):

Attracting both local and foreign travelers to lesser-known mountains and rivers across the peninsula is one of the goals of the Korea Tourism Organization under its newly appointed president Ahn Young-bae.

In the spirit of easing tensions between North and South Korea, Ahn plans to set up a team that will focus on promoting travel throughout both countries.

“If the relationship between the South and North [improves], ‘peace travel’ will really start to take off,” said Ahn during his first press conference, adding that this is one way to develop unique tour programs that can appeal to many travelers.

To develop new ideas to make the tourism industry in Korea more sustainable, Ahn also plans to set up a new tourism big data center. Here, he said, one can find out which areas are becoming popular vacation spots and what travelers are purchasing during their time away from home so that the travel industry can set up better marketing strategies. While a future management team, another initiative Ahn plans to start, will focus on how to make such changes, a value management team will conduct research based on the data and present their findings to the organization.

Full article:
KTO sees opportunity up North : New president plans to use big data to improve local tourism
Lee Sun-Min
Joongang Daily
2018-07-18

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South Korea, North Korea and Russia discuss railway cooperation

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Trilateral cooperation discussions on the cross-peninsular railway happened in Rason despite Russia’s earlier cancellation:

A group of representatives from South Korea’s presidential panel returned home Sunday after a trip to North Korea, where they discussed possible trilateral economic cooperation involving the two Koreas and Russia, its official said.

The Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation sent an 11-member team led by committee chairman Song Young-gil to the North’s northeastern border region of Rason. They stayed there for two days from Friday.

The team originally planned to attend a seminar hosted by Russia to discuss trilateral economic cooperation involving the two Koreas and Russia but canceled its participation. Instead it had discussions with North Koreans and Russians on the Rajin-Khasan project and other issues, the official said.

Rason, formerly known as Rajin and Sonbong, was designated as a special economic zone in 1991. The North has sought to develop the zone by drawing outside investment but faced setbacks amid its continued provocations.

The Rajin-Khasan project, in particular, is a logistics project aimed at transporting coal from Russia to the North by using a 54 km-long railway linking Khasan in Russia to the Rajin port of North Korea and then to South Korea by ship.

There have been test operations of the transport route three times, including the latest one in November 2015.

The trilateral cooperation project, however, has been put on hold as South Korea banned maritime transport from the North in early 2016 in the wake of the North’s nuclear and missile provocations.

South Korea and the United States have said that full-fledged economic cooperation with the North should wait until it carries out its promised “complete denuclearization.”

“The Rajin-Khasan project is not subject to U.N. sanctions but to sanctions imposed by the U.S. So we plan to draw up and propose a broad picture and make preparations for joint study until there is progress in denuclearization and discussion begins on lifting those sanctions,” the panel official said.

Article source:
Presidential panel discusses Rajin-Khasan cooperation during trip to N.K.
Yonhap News
2018-07-15

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Reopening Kaesong key to cooperation, says ROK gov’t official

Friday, July 13th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A South Korean official (albeit one specifically representing the interests of the zone) calls re-opening Kaesong a “first step” towards resumed inter-Korean economic cooperation. Yonhap:

A South Korean official in charge of promoting investments in North Korea’s Kaesong Industrial Complex said Friday that the reopening of the now-suspended industrial park in the North’s border town will be a first step towards resuming inter-Korean economic cooperation.

Addressing a unification symposium in Seoul, Kim Jin-hyang, chairman of the Kaesong Industrial District Foundation, said the operation of the Kaesong complex has to be restarted as quickly as possible.

“Inter-Korean economic cooperation cannot be discussed without the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” said Kim, who doubles as chief of the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee.

The government of former President Park Geun-hye abruptly announced the closure of the Kaesong park on Feb. 10, 2016, in retaliation for the North’s fourth nuclear weapons test and long-range missile launch.

Kim dismissed the abrupt closure of the complex as a “completely failed policy,” saying, “The decision was a grave disaster that shut down peace, economy and security altogether. North Korea was never dealt a blow when the Kaesong park was closed.”

“The Kaesong complex was not a special favor to the North. It was intended to support the South Korean economy stuck in a low-growth trap,” he said.

Kim noted that the Kaesong park is also very symbolic in terms of security and peace, arguing that the mix of about 60,000 South and North Korean workers in a single location can deter tensions and guarantee peace.

He stressed that South Korea should now join Singapore, Russia and China in preparing for large-scale investments in North Korea following its successive summit talks with the United States and South Korea to enhance the peace mood on the Korean Peninsula.

Article source:
Reopening of Kaesong Industrial Complex key to inter-Korean cooperation: official
Yonhap News
2018-07-13

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North Korea likely did 89 illegal ship-to-ship transfers in 2018, says U.S. data

Friday, July 13th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports Chad O’Carroll over at NK News:

North Korea likely conducted at least 89 ship-to-ship transfers to illicitly obtain refined petroleum products between January 1 and May 30, U.S. data provided to the United Nations and seen by NK News on Friday claims.

Pyongyang may have illegally imported up to 1,367,628 barrels of refined petroleum as a result of the transfers, upper-end estimates suggested, over double the 500,000 barrels authorized for export to North Korea each year by current UN sanctions.

Consequently, the U.S. recommended that the UN 1718 sanctions committee issue a “public note verbale to all UN Member States to inform them that the DPRK has breached the UNSCR 2397 OP5 refined petroleum product quota for 2018,” and that all countries should “order an immediate halt to all transfers of refined petroleum products to the DPRK.”

Since the May 30 data cut-off, the Japanese government has revealed details surrounding three extra cases of North Korean vessels caught conducting likely ship-to-ship transfers, with two on June 21 and June 22, and one on June 29.

North Korean skippers are thought to be conducting the at-sea transfers of fuel products to circumvent UN sanctions designed to limit how much Pyongyang can import each year.

Two countries were also flagged in the U.S. report for their role in provisioning on-the-books exports of petrol products supplementary to the barrels illicitly acquired through ship-to-ship transfers.

“As China and Russia have reported to the UN 1718 Committee in 2018, both member states continue to sell refined petroleum products to the DPRK,” the report said.

“These sales and any other transfer must immediately stop since the United States believes the DPRK has breached the UNSCR 2397 refined petroleum products quota for 2018.”

To evidence its claims, the U.S. included satellite imagery of four vessels described as either “likely in the process of delivering” or “delivering refined petrol products” that were “procured via illicit ship-to-ship transfer” at Nampo Port on the DPRK’s west coast.

Full article and source:

N. Korea likely conducted 89 illicit ship-to-ship transfers in 2018: U.S. data
Chad O’Carroll
NK News
2018-07-13

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Fuel prices are dropping in North Korea, and that’s a little odd

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

As in the rest of the country, gas prices continue to fall in Pyongyang, data from NK Pro shows, but remains much higher than the closest available month of 2017.

At the same time, recent figures from China state that its exports of refined fuel products to North Korea continues to remain well below the ceiling mandated by UN sanctions. Asia Press reports a slight increase of diesel prices in Yanggang and North Hamgyong provinces, but it’s a fairly minor one and the data by NK Pro and Daily NK still represents more data points. So what’s a plausible explanation here?

My best guess is that it’s a combination of increased smuggling, perhaps aided by China’s declining vigilance in enforcing sanctions and restrictions against illicit trade across the border. Gas prices shot up last spring when China decided to drastically cut sales of fuel products to North Korea, citing financial reasons (that North Korea wouldn’t be able to pay), but the decision was very likely influenced by political considerations as well. Now with the multitude of summits between Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping, and Kim and Trump, China’s willingness to enforce sanctions with the same vigor as it did through the second half of 2017 and the first half of 2018 has likely waned, impacting matters like fuel prices as well. It also seems plausible that fairly small changes in supply could change prices quite drastically, since North Korea already consumes a relatively small amount of gasoline and diesel on the whole.

Another possibility is that Chinese flows of unrefined oil through the pipeline in northwestern North Korea, through Dandong and Sinuiju, have increased. These aren’t monitored in the same way as Chinese sales of refined fuel to North Korea, and as far as I know, could be increased without the international community easily noticing. These oil flows also aren’t part of regular trade between the countries, and should be regarded more as Chinese financial support to North Korea.

My best bet would be on a combination of these two factors, but there’s obviously much we don’t know about the development.

Update 2018-07-15: NK News reports some US government data seeming to hint at what’s been going on. At least 89 hip-to-ship transfers occurred between January and May, in violation of UNSC sanctions:

North Korea likely conducted at least 89 ship-to-ship transfers to illicitly obtain refined petroleum products between January 1 and May 30, U.S. data provided to the United Nations and seen by NK News on Friday claims.

Pyongyang may have illegally imported up to 1,367,628 barrels of refined petroleum as a result of the transfers, upper-end estimates suggested, over double the 500,000 barrels authorized for export to North Korea each year by current UN sanctions.

Consequently, the U.S. recommended that the UN 1718 sanctions committee issue a “public note verbale to all UN Member States to inform them that the DPRK has breached the UNSCR 2397 OP5 refined petroleum product quota for 2018,” and that all countries should “order an immediate halt to all transfers of refined petroleum products to the DPRK.”

Since the May 30 data cut-off, the Japanese government has revealed details surrounding three extra cases of North Korean vessels caught conducting likely ship-to-ship transfers, with two on June 21 and June 22, and one on June 29.

Article source:
N. Korea likely conducted 89 illicit ship-to-ship transfers in 2018: U.S. data
Chad O’Carrol
NK News
2018-07-13

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