China, Russia subverting sanctions to supply North Korea

A new report from a United Nations’ panel of experts on North Korea claims that Russia and China are both subverting sanctions that are helping Pyongyang continue financing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The report also concludes that by doing so, Moscow and Beijing are letting the opportunity to peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear weapons issue slip away.

The draft report, which was distributed to a committee overseeing North Korean sanctions before it will be passed to the UN Security Council this week, is the most urgent warning to date that conflict could soon break out on the Korean peninsula. The report details many ways in which Pyongyang is acting to subvert sanctions on trade, finance, and weapon sales.

The report also notes that North Korea has been selling weapons for a decade to Syria and that Pyongyang is also assisting Damascus to build a chemical weapons program — just as the United States has warned Syria against further use of chemical weapons against rebels.

The draft report also provides evidence that Myanmar is purchasing a ballistic missile capability from North Korea along with surface-to-air missiles. Intelligence also suggests that Myanmar — which has been accused by the U.S. of ethnic cleansing in its own internal conflict — may also be in search of items banned by nuclear and other weapons proliferation agreements.

UN investigators have blamed Myanmar, Russia, and China for failing to do enough to impose UN-mandated sanctions against North Korea, citing that some $200 million worth of North Korean coal has been exported and sold in violation of UN sanctions. Most of the coal was shipped via Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese or Russian ports, and roughly 30 representatives from North Korean financial institutes are known to be operating abroad. [source]

Analysis: The Trump administration is aware of how North Korea has been skirting sanctions and who is helping the country do so. We have to believe that U.S. diplomats have raised the issue with their counterparts from the involved countries, but of course, those concerns will be paid lip service only from the countries actively involved in assisting the North Koreans. It’s clear that Russia and China, for certain, want to keep North Korea somewhat supplied because it keeps a regime bordering their countries stable. Helping Pyongyang also works against American interests. But what’s less clear is whether Beijing or Moscow believe President Trump’s threats to strike North Korea if/when Pyongyang develops and deploys a nuclear capability that can threaten the U.S. We get the feeling they don’t, otherwise, they would be doing more to help Washington starve North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs of vital funding. Or maybe they believe that Trump doesn’t have the gumption to strike a country on their borders. Either way, we continue to believe that Trump is serious, meaning Russia’s and China’s continued assistance to North Korea is sealing the country’s fate. 

During his State of the Union Address, Trump said North Korea was in “reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening. Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation.  I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.”

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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