North Korean sanctions violations don’t mean Kim is abandoning denuclearization

The Trump administration has levied new sanctions against a China-based tech firm, its North Korean CEO and a Russian subsidiary for illicitly moving funds to Pyongyang in violation of previously-imposed sanctions.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has offered new evidence that North Korea is violating international sanctions, The Wall Street Journal reported.

As for the tech firm, Reuters noted that the China-based Yanbian Silverstar Network Technology Co, its North Korean chief executive Jong Song Hwa, and a Russian-based sister company, Volasys Silver Star, were targeted by the Treasury Department for the new sanctions.

“These actions are intended to stop the flow of illicit revenue to North Korea from overseas information technology workers disguising their true identities and hiding behind front companies, aliases, and third-party nationals,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

He went on to warn companies around the world that the Trump administration was prepared to sanction any of them caught doing business with the North Korean government in violation of existing economic sanctions.

Mnuchin said firms “to take precautions to ensure that they are not unwittingly employing North Korean workers for technology projects.”

Previously, the U.S. has accused Moscow of violating international sanctions against North Korea by employing North Korean workers.

The UN noted in a confidential report that Pyongyang was significantly undermining global sanctions by, among other means, receiving banned goods on the high seas like fuel and oil products transferred to North Korean vessels. Earlier this year the Japanese government released a photo showing one such transfer.

The WSJ reported further:

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 Trump administration says such transfers and sales are undermining efforts to keep the pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

“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 WSJ.

Analysis: Last week the White House announced that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent a letter via South Korea to President Trump sending ‘warm’ regards and a request for a second summit following their historic Singapore meeting earlier this year.

The request has generated much speculation among Western and Asian diplomatic and geopolitical circles as to what it means in regards to the primary objective of the U.S., South Korea, Japan, and other concerned parties: The complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

So, does the ongoing flouting of U.S. and international sanctions indicate that Kim isn’t serious about denuclearization and never was? Possibly. Experts in this camp point to the superficial gestures he’s made thus far to back up that claim, such as the destruction of a nuclear test site that had become useless anyway and ongoing ballistic missile production. They also say that Kim hasn’t launched any more missiles because he doesn’t need to; his scientists have a lot of data to crunch following the flurry of testing last year.

But there are other considers we should examine as well.

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First and foremost, why would Kim unilaterally destroy his nuclear weapons infrastructure following just one meeting with the leader of a country he was raised to fear, mistrust, and oppose? Put another way, would the U.S. do the same if it were in the same position as North Korea?

As to the sanctions violations, regardless of what ultimately transpires regarding his nuclear weapons, Kim has a country to run. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he’s going to do whatever it takes to obtain the necessities of life and functionality. These actions alone do not indicate that he’s not serious about denuclearization.

Many experts are trying to dissuade President Trump from taking a second face-to-face meeting with Kim. They are accusing Kim of merely buying time to finish work on a nuclear-tipped ICBM that can credibly threaten the region and the West.

He may be doing just that. But what would a second meeting hurt? Nothing on the ground has changed. The military dynamics of North Korea vs. the United States have not shifted one iota. Regional alliances haven’t changed. China’s willingness to help its problematic neighbor haven’t changed. More meetings, however, wouldn’t “legitimize” Kim (he’s already the ‘legitimate’ leader of North Korea) as much as they would perhaps build more trust, which may be precisely what he needs before he can agree to move forward with a denuclearization plan.

But what has changed is that Kim is obviously more willing to engage with the United States than previous North Korean leaders. He has to understand that long-term, whether he builds a credible nuclear threat or not, being perpetually isolated is not in his people’s best interests. His confrontational attitude towards the U.S. and the West helps Russia and China more than it helps Pyongyang and the North Korean people.

And didn’t most analysts agree at one point that negotiations with North Korea rather than confrontation were a better alternative?



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