North Korea imported at least US$640 million worth of luxury goods from China last year, in defiance of UN sanctions outlawing such trade over the North’s nuclear and missile programs, a South Korean lawmaker said yesterday.
The US has urged strict implementation of sanctions as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign, which Washington has credited with bringing the North to the negotiating table.
There have been signs the campaign has been losing steam since North Korea suspended nuclear and missile tests and leader Kim Jong-un vowed steps towards denuclearization at a US-North Korean summit in June — and as China and Russia called for relaxed sanctions.
“Kim has bought lavish items from China and other places like a seaplane for not only his own family, and also expensive musical instruments, high-quality TVs, sedans, liquor, watches and fur as gifts for the elites who prop up his regime,” Saenuri Party Lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun said in a statement. “With the growing loophole, Kim would be able to near his goal of neutralizing sanctions soon without giving up the nuclear weapons.”
Last year, North Korea spent at least US$640 million on luxury goods from China, Yoon said.
He compiled data based on a list of banned items crafted by Seoul in line with a 2009 UN resolution.
The Chinese General Administration of Customs did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Beijing has said it strictly abides by international sanctions against North Korea.
The luxury trade volume last year was down from the 2014 peak of US$800 million, but was only a 3.8 percent drop from US$666.4 million in 2016, Yoon said.
The luxury items accounted for 17.8 percent of North Korea’s entire imports from China last year which totaled US$3.7 billion, Yoon said.
Purchases of electronic products such as high-end TVs made up for more than half of the total transactions, worth US$340 million, followed by cars with US$204 million and liquors with US$35 million.
China’s trade with North Korea from January to August this year tumbled 57.8 percent from the year-earlier figure to US$1.51 billion, China’s customs agency said last month.
However, Yoon’s analysis also shows North Korea funneled more than US$4 billion into luxury shopping in China since Kim took power at the end of 2011.
Yoon accused China of loosening enforcement of sanctions, and criticized South Korea’s recent request for UN and US exemptions to restart inter-Korean economic cooperation.
When asked yesterday about the possibility of discord with the US over sanctions, a senior official at South Korea’s presidential office said the two countries would “eventually be on the same path” toward denuclearization though there might be a “procedural difference.”
However, the US Department of the Treasury is “deeply concerned” about planned financial cooperation between the two Koreas and has told South Korean banks that “UN and US sanctions on North Korea remain valid,” a document from the South Korean Financial Services Commission released yesterday showed.
An unidentified official at the US Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence last month called executives in charge of compliance at seven South Korean banks, the document showed.
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