Why Was Gov't So Slow to Respond to Suspicious N.Korean Shipments?

      July 24, 2018 12:51

      Cheong Wa Dae said Monday that it was aware of suspected shipments of North Korean coal arriving in a South Korean port as early as October 2017 and that the Korea Customs Service had been investigating the matter. But the presidential office said it has yet to arrive at a clear decision on the issue.

      The Panamanian freighter Sky Angel and Sierra Leone-registered Rich Glory arrived at Incheon and Pohang ports in October carrying about 9,000 tons of coal from the Russian port of Kholmsk that was disguised as Russian product. That is enough evidence to raise red flags. A panel of experts at the UN Security Council ruled that the shipments could violate sanctions, but Cheong Wa Dae is still "investigating" the matter. It not only failed to seize the suspicious vessels but according to records allowed them to enter South Korean ports another 32 times.

      If international cooperation breaks down in enforcing sanctions against North Korea, a resolution to the nuclear crisis becomes impossible. The South Korean government should spearhead efforts to pinpoint potential weaknesses in international sanctions instead of ignoring evidence that included satellite photos proving the violations. The Moon Jae-in administration would have acted much faster if this was a matter involving violations by the conservative camp or business community at home in the name of eradicating what it calls "a deep-rooted evil." But when it comes to North Korea's perceived sensitivities it drags its heels.

      Meanwhile Russian President Vladimir Putin has extended the work visas of North Korean slave laborers until December 2019 even though that is banned under a UNSC resolution from September last year. There have also been fresh revelations that the number of traders operating along the China-North Korea border rose from 1,000 when sanctions kicked in to around 5,000 recently. What is Seoul doing to stop these violations? Instead, the foreign minister "asked for exemptions within the framework of sanctions to continue dialogue and cooperation with the North." Russia and China make strange bedfellows for this government.

      If sanctions break down, North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons. The president needs to take a firm stand so that the North will not be tempted to keep its nuclear weapons, and he should be the first to demand that China and Russia abide by UN regulations.

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