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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Correction at 19:20 of 2020-02-27: The article previously said that the DPRK’s export of sand was not sanctioned, when it was in fact sanctioned via UNSC Resolution 2397 passed in late 2017.
Following the leak to media of a forthcoming UN report on North Korean sanctions enforcement and violations, China on Monday rejected accusations in the report that it helped Pyongyang evade sanctions in 2019 as “baseless.”
Reuters, CNN, and other outlets this week reported on leaked copies of the 2020 Panel of Experts (PoE) report under the UN Security Council (UNSC) committee on North Korean sanctions, set to be officially released next month.
The articles included details from one unidentified member state who said in the PoE report Chinese ships and ports received large amounts of DPRK coal and other exports in violation of the measures last year.
A spokesperson for the Chinese mission to the UN condemned the leak shortly after Reuters released details of the PoE report on Monday, saying Beijing “expresses indignation and concern and requests an investigation by the Secretariat on the leakage of the report.”
The report “has been leaked to the media and caused media hypes and baseless accusations against China,” the statement said.
“China has always faithfully and seriously fulfilled its international obligations and sustained huge losses and tremendous pressure in the process,” it added.
A Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson in a regular briefing on Tuesday also said that “China is concerned over its leakage” but that “we offer no comment on relevant news reports.”
The accusation included in the Reuters article was quoted from the PoE report as saying that, according to one UN member state, “most DPRK coal exports, an estimated 2.8 million metric tons, were conducted via ship-to-ship transfers from DPRK-flagged vessels to Chinese local barges.”
According to CNN, multiple member states claimed or gave evidence to the PoE showing that DPRK ships also delivered coal as well as one million tons of dredged sand worth $22 million directly to Chinese ports.
North Korea’s coal exports were restricted through UNSC resolutions in 2016 before being banned completely in 2017, while DPRK sand exports were made illegal by UNSC Resolution 2397 passed at the end of 2017.
In China’s response on Monday, while rejecting the reported evidence included in the unreleased PoE report, Beijing repeated their stance that they nonetheless view the current UNSC resolutions — which they last approved in 2017 — as now requiring changes.
“China believes that it is imperative for the Security Council to take action and invoke the reversible provisions in the resolutions and to make necessary adjustments to the sanctions measures, especially in areas concerning the livelihood of the civilian population of the DPRK,” the statement read.
Referring to efforts which kicked off in December, it added that “China and Russia assumed responsibility and jointly tabled a draft resolution at the Security Council on the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue.”
Washington quickly rejected that measure, however, saying in December that “now is not the time for the UN Security Council to consider offering premature sanctions relief.”
China and Russia framed the resolution in the text as focusing on lifting sanctions “related to the livelihood of the civilian population of the DPRK,” including those on seafood and textiles exports, DPRK overseas laborers, and the import of a number of metal products.
On Monday, the Chinese mission in New York also said that existing UNSC resolutions “reaffirm that the sanction measures are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population of the DPRK.”
The PoE report leaked to media this week, however, reportedly said “there can be little doubt that U.N. sanctions have had unintended effects on the humanitarian situation and aid operations.”
But the draft resolution also curiously sought to lift restrictions on North Korea’s export of statues, known to be a product primarily of the Mansudae Art Studio — suspected by the UNSC when designated in 2017 as being an earnings generator for the government, possibly for use in its nuclear and missile programs.
Halting the development of these programs has historically been the key motivating factor in instituting the various UNSC sectoral sanctions, and continues to be a focus of the PoE’s investigative work.
A CNN article this week quoted the PoE as saying in the 2020 report that “despite its extensive indigenous capability,” North Korea continues to use “illicit external procurement for components and technology” in military development.
Besides the PoE report detailing continued activities of networks to sell coal and other sanctioned commodities, and import petroleum and potentially weapons program-related goods, another reported money earner has been North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated cyber activities.
The upcoming UN report, according to media this week, includes a section on North Korean cyberattacks in the past year which have “resulted in monetary losses and have provided illicit revenue for the DPRK in violation of financial sanctions.”
Meanwhile, Russia has yet to respond directly to the leak of the PoE document to U.S. media outlets, though Moscow’s representative at the UN in New York said on Monday that their proposed DPRK sanctions relief efforts with China continued to be frozen.
Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia said in an interview with RIA Novosti that other UNSC members are still opposed to the measures after the most recent negotiations in December, but that it remains “on the table.”
Edited by James Fretwell