Archive for the ‘International trade’ Category

Mt Kumgang tours unlikely to be resumed this year, because of sanctions

Monday, November 19th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports Yonhap, with comments by ever-optimistic Hyundai Asan officials:

The head of Hyundai Group on Monday expressed reservations about any quick resumption of a stalled tour program to North Korea’s scenic mountain resort.

“At this point, the situation is difficult for the tour program to be resumed within this year, but I think it will be done in the near future,” Hyundai Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun told reporters after returning from Mount Kumgang on the North’s east coast.

She made a two-day visit to Mount Kumgang to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the cross-border tour program.

Earlier in August, Hyun had said she expects the project to be resumed within this year.

She said no detailed discussions on economic cooperation between the two Koreas had been made during her visit.

“We are preparing so that the inter-Korean economic projects can be resumed when the U.S. lifts sanctions,” Hyun said, adding that there is not much for a private enterprise to comment on the matter.

About 100 South Koreans and 80 North Koreans officials, as well as some 500 North Korean residents, attended the first celebratory event in four years at the east coast resort. It was jointly organized by Hyundai Group and the North’s Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, a North Korean body that handles inter-Korean affairs.

Full article:
Tour program to Mount Kumgang unlikely to be resumed this year: Hyundai chief
Yonhap News
2018-11-19

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Ri Yong Ho’s Vietnam visit and economic reform in North Korea

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea’s Ri Yong Ho is visiting Vietnam in November, several media outlets have reported. Reuters:

Ri will visit the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, for three days from Nov. 27 to inspect industrial zones and interview economic experts, a diplomatic source with direct knowledge of the trip told Reuters.

[…]

U.S. officials have said Vietnam’s socialist market economy could be an example for North Korea.

Yonhap said Ri had told the Vietnamese government that North Korea hoped to learn from Vietnam’s model of development.

This week Kim hosted President Miguel Diaz-Canel of Cuba – another country under U.S. sanctions – during a lavish visit in Pyongyang, where the two leaders vowed to boost their cooperation.

Full article:
As North Korea ponders economic reform, its top diplomat to visit Vietnam
James Pearson and Hayoung Choi
Reuters
2018-11-7

We don’t know exactly where Ri will go or what the purpose is, but North Korean officials have often spoken of “learning” from other countries’ experiences, without any radical, systemic overhaul being announced. It isn’t doesn’t mean the regime plans to adopt any specific “model” wholesale, or to change the entire system of economic governance tomorrow. North Korea is a country, and like all other countries, there exists a local, national context to which all reforms and systemic changes will be adapted.

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Hyundai’s aspiration to reverse N Korea fortunes

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reuters:

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has pushed for rapprochement with the North since his election last year, calls the Kaesong industrial park a “lifeline” for South Korea.

Asia’s fourth-biggest economy is being squeezed globally between high-end, innovative manufacturers and low-cost producers in China and elsewhere.

Before the 2016 closure of Kaesong, some 120 South Korean companies employed 55,000 North Korean workers there, making everything from clothes and kitchen utensils to electronic components. The North Korean workers were well qualified, hard working and cost just a fraction of what workers in the South were paid, factory owners said.

Almost all small and medium enterprises which used to operate in Kaesong said they would like to go back, according to an April survey.

Seven out of 10 South Korean companies would prefer to use North Korean workers instead of foreign migrants due to language barriers and high costs associated with hiring foreign labor, a separate survey by the Korea Federation of SMEs found.

Hyundai Asan has the most riding on the prospect of a peaceful peninsula.

It paid $1.2 billion to buy exclusive rights for Kaesong and Mount Kumgang, and has interests in railroads and infrastructure projects including reconnecting inter-Korean railways.

Hyundai Asan’s rights to land the size of Manhattan in Kaesong last for 50 years, and it has a plan to build an even bigger factory town if the complex reopens, accommodating 2,000 companies and 350,000 North Korean workers.

Less than 5 percent of the total property in Kaesong has been developed currently, Hyundai told Reuters.

Officials say Hyundai has also agreed with the North to run tours in the coastal city of Wonsan, which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is trying to build into a hotspot for tourism and foreign investment, as well as Mount Paektu, the famed homeland of both Koreas.

Hyundai’s Baek said the company is also in talks with Seoul and state-run corporations about projects to reconnect railroads between the North and South.

“The government respects Hyundai’s business rights it signed with the North,” said a spokeswoman at South Korea’s Unification Ministry, who did not respond to a question about its discussions with Hyundai.

NO LOVE FROM WASHINGTON

South Korean government officials and business executives say the biggest hurdle is opposition from Washington, which wants to maintain sanctions until Pyongyang completely denuclearizes.

In July, Mark Lambert, director for Korean affairs at the U.S. State Department, called about 10 South Korean businessmen for a meeting at the U.S. embassy in Seoul to deliver a stern message: No resumption of any businesses until denuclearization.

“The mood in the room was bleak,” said SJTech Chairman Yoo Chang-geun, who used to operate a factory at Kaesong and attended the meeting.

Baek, who was also present, unsuccessfully argued Kaesong and Mount Kumgang should be waived from sanctions “to show our goodwill to North Korea.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department declined to comment on details of “private diplomatic conversations.”

Article source:
After tragic losses, Hyundai aims to reverse N. Korea fortunes
Reuters
2018-10-31

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Two Koreas start railway inspections

Sunday, October 21st, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

South and North Korea are likely to start their joint on-site inspection as early as this week for a project to modernize and re-link railways across their border, government officials said Sunday.

At high-level talks last week, the two Koreas agreed to begin field surveys of the western Gyeongui railway in late October and the Donghae railway along their east coast in November.

“The Koreas are known to be discussing ways to conduct the inspection (on the North section) of the Gyeongui line starting late this week,” a government official said.

“The schedule is flexible, depending on consultations between the government and the United Nations Command (UNC) over the passage of the Military Demarcation Line,” he added.

In August, the Koreas failed to carry out a joint railway field survey as the U.S.-led UNC did not approve the plan, citing “procedural” problems, a move widely seen as U.S. objection to the inter-Korean railway project on the basis that it might hamper sanctions.

“As far as I’m concerned, Seoul’s consultations with Pyongyang as well as the UNC are smoothly under way,” the official said.

If launched, the joint inspection will involve the test operation of a train on the railway linking Seoul to the North’s northwestern city of Sinuiju.

After that, the Koreas will check the eastern railway on the North’s side that connects Mout Kumgang to its northeastern North Hamgyong province.

South and North Korea are looking to hold a ground-breaking ceremony for work on the rail and road systems along the eastern and western regions either in late November or early December.

Meanwhile, the two Koreas plan to hold working-level talks starting this week to implement agreements of the inter-Korean summit held in Pyongyang last month.

Full article/source:
Koreas to start joint inspection of western railway as early as this week
Yonhap News
2018-10-21

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Moon’s Europe trip

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

President Moon went to Europe. In France, he argued that sanctions against North Korea should be eased. Yonhap:

Moon agreed with the need to maintain pressure on the North until it denuclearizes, but said such pressure could be or should be eased to encourage the impoverished North.

“I believe the international community needs to provide assurances that North Korea has made the right choice to denuclearize and encourage North Korea to speed up the process,” the South Korean president told the joint press conference.

Moon’s remarks come amid an apparent tug of war between the United States and North Korea over when the North should be entitled to rewards for giving up its nuclear ambition.

Pyongyang is said to be demanding timely rewards for what it claims to be irreversible denuclearization steps it has already taken while Washington is insisting on maximum sanctions and pressure until the impoverished nation fully denuclearizes.

In his third bilateral summit with Moon, held in Pyongyang last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un offered to take additional denuclearization steps, including the dismantlement of the country’s only nuclear test site, in presence of international experts for verification.

“Chairman Kim Jong-un has said he is willing to not only halt the country’s nuclear and missile tests and also dismantle its production facilities, but also dismantle all nuclear weapons and nuclear materials it currently possesses if the United States takes corresponding measures,” the South Korean president told Macron in their meeting, according to Moon’s chief press secretary Yoon Young-chan.

Full article/source:
Moon says France, U.N. can speed up N. Korea’s denuclearization by easing sanctions
Yonhap News
2018-10-16

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N Korea condemns international sanctions, again

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yonhap summarizes KCNA:

In a commentary by an individual writer, the Korean Central News Agency said that the U.S. should take corresponding steps in response to Pyongyang’s major conciliatory action in the past few months.

“If the U.S. intends to be stubborn in its sanctions, which means to continue to pursue hostile policy, is the Singapore Joint Statement which promised to end the extreme hostile relations between the DPRK and the U.S. and to open up new future of any worth and what did the U.S. president mean by ‘big progress’ which he bragged,” the commentary said in English.

“Quite long period has passed since the DPRK stopped nuclear tests and inter-continental ballistic rocket launches and it is, therefore, natural for sanctions measures taken on that pretexts to disappear accordingly,” it added.

DPRK stands for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The commentary emphasized that China and Russia have also called for denuclearization and the establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula in a “phased” and “simultaneous” way, meaning each country involved should take corresponding measures every step of the way.

It even called into question the real intention behind Washington’s firm stance on sanctions.

“It is an undeniable reality that denuclearization and sanctions are misused as tools for meeting party interests and strategies of the political forces within the U.S., not to solve bottleneck problems between the DPRK and the U.S. to even a certain extent,” it said.

Its accusatory tone comes as the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea are pushing to hold their second summit meeting “at the earliest possible date,” resuming diplomacy after months of stalemate since their first-ever meeting in Singapore in June.

During the June summit, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un promised to work toward the “complete” denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in return for “new” relations with the U.S.

The North has demanded the U.S. take “corresponding” measures for what it claims to be substantive and practical denuclearization steps, including a moratorium on missile and nuclear tests and dismantling of a major nuclear test site. Easing sanctions and declaring an end to Korean War have been cited as possible concessions.

Full article/source:
N. Korea demands lifting of sanctions, calls them hostile policy against Pyongyang
Yonhap News
2018-10-16

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China-NK trade dropped by 59.2% January–September of 2018, says China

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Global Times reports Chinese customs figures:

China has consistently complied with UN’s resolutions on North Korea and bilateral trade tumbled 59.2 percent year-on-year from January to September, said an official with the General Administration of Customs (GAC) on Friday.

The value of China’s trade with North Korea was 11.11 billion yuan ($1.61 billion) in the first three quarters, according to data released by the GAC.

During the same period, China’s export volume to North Korea was 10.11 billion yuan, down 40.8 percent on a yearly basis and imports stood at 1 billion yuan, down 90.1 percent year-on-year, the GAC data showed.

The implementation of the Security Council’s decision is an obligation that all UN members should fulfill, said Li Kuiwen, an official with the GAC.

Li noted that “China’s customs has consistently carried out the relevant resolutions of the Security Council in a comprehensive, accurate, serious and strict manner.”

China’s trade volume with North Korea in the January-to-August period fell 57.8 percent from a year earlier to $1.51 billion, the GAC said on September 23.

Article source:
China-North Korea trade drops 59.2% in January-September period: customs
Global Times
2018-10-13

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Russia wants sanctions on North Korea to ease

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

I don’t think we have systematic, rigid data enough to prove that Russian sanctions implementation overall on North Korea has eased even though the Russian government’s line on easing international sanctions has gone on consistently for months. But still, it’s only logical that a government working for sanctions pressure to ease would at the very least make sanctions implementation oversight and rigor less of a priority. Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Pompeo used his opening address to swipe at permanent Security Council members Russia and China for violating U.N. sanctions involving the sale of petroleum products in excess of North Korea’s maximum 500,000-barrel allowance and for providing other forms of economic relief.

“The members of this Council must set the example on that effort, and we must all hold each other accountable,” Mr. Pompeo said, calling for an end of ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products, linked to Chinese and Russian entities, and a halt to hosting of North Korean laborers, a reference to the thousands of workers who have been granted permission to work in Russia.

“This violates the spirit and the letter of the Security Council resolutions that we all agreed to uphold,” he told the Council.

Mr. Lavrov used his address to bash the U.S. and its allies for exerting excessive pressure on North Korea, saying it was unacceptable for sanctions to be used as a form of “collective punishment.”

Mr. Lavrov defended North Korea’s call for economic relief, saying Pyongyang has taken meaningful steps toward implementing its promise to give up its nuclear weapons and urged the U.N. Security Council to send a “positive signal” in return.

“Negotiations are a two-way street,” Mr. Lavrov said, adding that Russia would draft a proposal to allow certain economic projects in North Korea to be exempt from sanctions.

Mr. Lavrov said such projects would be in the interest of all parties and would ease the “extreme socioeconomic and humanitarian suffering” caused by the sweeping sanctions regime currently in place. He also took aim at the U.S. for implementing secondary sanctions, which he described as “illicit practices” that undermine the sovereignty of other nations.

It’ll be interesting to see what these economic projects are specifically. My bet is on infrastructure and railway renovations and possibly new construction,  or perhaps ones centering around the Rason port and special economic zone.

Full article:
Russia’s Lavrov Calls for U.N. to Ease North Korea Sanctions
Jessica Donati
Wall Street Journal
2018-09-27

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The economic side of the Moon-Kim summit

Friday, September 21st, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The economic aspect has been continuously front-and-center throughout the Moon-Kim summit in Pyongyang (September 19–20). From a diplomatic standpoint, this is not all that surprising. Moon and Kim are pursuing what appears to be a rather classical Sunshine 2.0 pattern, with roughly the same contents as the predecessor. As Yonhap reports:

Earlier in the day, the leaders of South and North Korea agreed to work together for balanced economic development on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to break ground on a joint project to connect railways and roads across their border this year and vowed diverse cooperative projects to deepen their friendly ties and foster a reconciliatory mood.

The agreements were reached during summit talks held in Pyongyang between Moon and Kim.

“We will prepare for (inter-Korean economic cooperation) in a calm and orderly manner,” Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon said in a meeting with reporters here.

“But inter-Korean economic projects can gather speed if circumstances improve,” he said.

The minister said any inter-Korean economic projects should need support from the international community, and there are still many things to be done in advance.

The latest agreement came months after the leaders reached a deal during their April summit to modernize and eventually connect rail and road systems across their divided border.

Field surveys have been carried out to examine the state of some sections of the North’s rail and road networks, but the process has not moved fast enough, apparently due to stringent sanctions imposed on the North for its nuclear program.

Railways and infrastructure are both less politically touchy than outright trade, and potentially mutually beneficial, even though the south will carry the economic burden:

“The South and the North agreed to explore practical measures aimed at increasing exchange and cooperation and seeking balanced development,” read a joint statement they signed after the summit.

“The two agreed to hold a ground-breaking ceremony this year for connecting railways and roads running along their eastern and western coasts,” it also stated.

The decision came months after the leaders reached a deal during their April summit to modernize and eventually connect rail and road systems across their divided border. The Seoul government has set aside nearly 300 billion won for next year to carry out those projects.

Field surveys have been carried out to examine the state of some sections of the North’s rail and road networks, but the process has not been fast enough, apparently because of global sanctions on the North.

The second point of the Pyongyang Declaration promises more economic cooperation for “balanced” growth, and vows to reopen projects such as the Kumgangsan tourism zone, and the Kaesong Industrial Park, according to Moon, “when conditions allow“. Here’s an English-language full-text version of the declaration. A particularly interesting but understudied point is 2.3, on ecological cooperation.

Kim Jong-un’s forestry interest has been a recurring theme throughout his tenure, and as this blog has covered, he’s spoken about the problems associated with excessive tree-felling – the root cause of which is North Korea’s planning failures of the 1990s – in more honest terms than his father did. At the very least, there’s been strong hints of both pragmatism and understanding of North Korea’s structural problems in the way that Kim has talked about the forestry issue (and many others too for that matter). Indeed, the Korea Forest Service chief accompanied Moon to Pyongyang, and he hopes to get to work soon following the summit:

“Forests surrounding populous urban areas were heavily destroyed, but forests in less populated regions were well-preserved,” Kim Jae-hyun said in a meeting with reporters at a government complex in Daejeon. “I saw enough hope.”

He was speaking after accompanying South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s visit to North Korea from Tuesday to Thursday.

As the first step, Kim said the Korea Forest Service will explore ways to create tree nurseries in much-destroyed regions.

“The North Korean side wants large-scale tree nurseries, but it would be more practical to start with small nurseries in regions suffering from deforestation the most,” he said.

In regard to disease and insect control efforts, the official said the use of machinery could be limited as the North is under U.N. sanctions for its missile and nuclear tests, while pesticides are allowed.

“I think (the disease and insect control measures) should start immediately to build trust between the two Koreas,” he said.

The forest expert said his North Korea visit as part of the official entourage showed Moon’s “willingness” to pursue inter-Korean cooperation in the forest sector.

“Looking down from an airplane along the western coastline, North Korea’s forests were very impressive,” Kim said. “There were few trees on hills near Pyongyang, while trees were well-maintained on the way from Sunan Airport to Baekhwawon guesthouse.”

Mountains near Yalu River on the North Korean border with China were denuded, but Mount Paekdu showed off all colors of beautiful trees, he said.

Moon and Kim aren’t the only ones who have talked about economic cooperation. The mayor for Busan, South Korea’s second most populated city, for example, has announced projects that his city will spearhead. Yonhap again:

Busan’s envisioned projects, unveiled in time for President Moon Jae-in’s historic visit to North Korea, call for boosting the city’s cooperation with the North in the fields of fisheries trade and processing, modernization of fishing vessels and equipment, shipbuilding, exhibitions and conventions and smart city technology, the city said.

The city will push to invite North Korean filmmakers and actors to the Busan International Film Festival and hold an inter-Korean film festival.

Nikkei Asian Review also reports that the Moon government has put pressure on Samsung and its head, Lee Jae-yong, to present a large-scale investment plan for North Korea. Samsung has manufactured TV:s in North Korea before, but this time around, the company hasn’t appeared as eager as its other chaebol-counterparts to draft up implementable blueprints for investments up north. Politically, it makes sense. Samsung’s PR hasn’t exactly been superb as of late, with the arrest and later release from prison of its CEO relating to corruption charges tied to the Choi Soon-sil/Park Geun-hye-scandal.

South Korea’s main steelmaker Posco is also hoping for opportunities following the summit:

The executive was part of the business delegation that accompanied President Moon Jae-in on his trip to North Korea earlier this week. Choi and other businessmen discussed various inter-Korean economic cooperation projects that can be pursued going forward if conditions are right.

“It will be a big opportunity not only for POSCO but for the steel industry as a whole,” Choi said. “I think POSCO will be able to find chances for growth.”

The company recently created a new task force to prepare for potential business opportunities in North Korea. POSCO Daewoo, POSCO Engineering & Construction Co. and POSCO Chemtech Co. are participating in the task force.

The steelmaker said it wants to play a key role in railroad and other infrastructure projects in line with the changes in the geopolitical environment in Northeast Asia.

My five cents on what all this entails for the North Korean economy:

Of course, as of yet, nothing. Most of the plans and visions are routinely accompanied by the caveat “when conditions allow”. The infrastructure plans may be able to go ahead even with sanctions in place, at least the rhetoric from the Moon administration, and the timetable for breaking ground on the railway connections before this year is over, seems to suggest so. I’m no expert on the judicial side of the sanctions, but it’s hard to imagine that this will be fully uncontroversial from that standpoint.

In any case, North Korea is in dire need of infrastructure improvements and if they are extensive enough, they should hopefully not just connect South and North Korea with Russia and China for cheaper freight, but also make domestic goods transportation simpler and more efficient, with positive impacts for the markets and private manufacturing in the country.

On re-opening Kaesong, things are a bit more complicated. In its nature, Kaesong is a manufacturing zone mostly cut off from the rest of North Korea. Sure, the incomes of the workers did enter the North Korean economy, and arguably, the fact that South Korean consumer goods could to some extent enter North Korean markets through Kaesong spurred competition for more high-quality goods on the North Korean market as well. But Kaesong is hardly the only, and perhaps not even the main route through which such products enter the country. These are also pretty weak arguments when you look at the entire economic picture.

The problem with Kaesong isn’t so much what it was/is/will be, but the missed opportunities. The hope with special economic zones tends to be that institutional frameworks that are tried there first can later spill over into the rest of the country. In the case of North Korea, the arrangement made pretty sure that that didn’t happen, at least from what we can tell. Had inputs been sourced from North Korea, that could also have spurred wider economic growth, at least in some regions. In theory, there are lots of opportunities for synergy and cooperation between South Korean companies and smaller North Korean ones, not just the state. If the goal is economic development in North Korea more broadly, and not just economic profit on the southern side and incomes for the north, there are lots of models that carry far greater potential.

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WSJ on the holes in the sanctions regime against N Korea

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

WSJ:

The still-confidential report, prepared by a U.N. panel that monitors sanctions compliance, says North Korea has been caught selling arms to Syria, Yemen, Libya and other conflict zones around the world. The U.N. investigators found a massive rise in fuel imports through transfers involving Russian and Chinese ships. The report also cited numerous examples of coal shipments from North Korea to China that were structured to avoid surveillance.

The illegal trade is weakening U.S. efforts to pressure the regime to abandon its nuclear program, the panel says, citing intelligence reports.

“These violations render the latest U.N. sanctions ineffective by flouting the caps on the [North Korea’s] import of petroleum products and crude oil as well as the coal ban imposed in 2017,” the U.N. experts warned in the report, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

[…]

The U.N. panel’s findings are the latest indication that North Korea continues to engage in banned activities even as it engages in these diplomatic efforts.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week about a group of North Korean operatives in China using U.S. social media to pursue online schemes benefiting the regime. Also this week, the Journal reported North Korean ships had brought in 89 illicit cargoes of fuel in the first five months of the year obtained via ship to ship transfers primarily with Chinese or Russian counterparts.

[…]

The U.N. called out Chinese companies for buying tens of millions of dollars worth of North Korean iron, steel, textiles, food and other products, though Beijing disputed the figures. Citing official trade data, the U.N. said China bought more than $100 million in textiles from North Korea the last three months of 2017, $95 million more than Beijing reported directly to the panel. China disputes the U.N.-reported figures.

The U.N. panel also said it found more than 200 Chinese joint ventures with North Korea, collaboration banned last year by the Security Council. According to a U.S. Treasury Department advisory published in July, those companies conduct a vast array of business including software development, construction and aquaculture.

In Russia, which has also been criticized for what U.S. and U.N. officials say is lax sanctions enforcement, investigators found 39 joint ventures.

North Korean financial agents also continue to operate in Russia and China, the U.N. report said, despite the mandate to expel any bank representatives. Establishing and managing bank accounts allows North Korea to collect the illicit revenues generated overseas. When accounts were closed in the European Union, North Korea operatives simply transferred the funds to others in Asia, the U.N. report says.

Full article/source:

U.N. Cites New Evidence That North Korea Is Violating Sanctions

Ian Talley
Wall Street Journal
2018-09-15

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