Dec. 29, 2017 – The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a new resolution tightening sanctions against North Korea. It is the tenth Security Council resolution on North Korea since 2006 and the fourth in 2017. It follows 20 ballistic missile tests by North Korea (DPRK) in the past year that violate UN resolutions against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The consensus language in the December 22 resolution was opaque and loose enough to bring together the 15-member council.

While it is too soon to know how effective new resolution will be, it is already having an effect. The latest resolution gives countries added authority to implement previous sanctions, and today South Korea put the new authority to use when it seized a Hong Kong-flagged ship suspected of illegal trading.

It targets certain types of trade with North Korea, such as discreet ship-to-ship transfers of crude oil, joint ventures that hide the origins of products, and North Korea’s use of exporting its labor to countries like Russia, China, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to earn income for the government.

Specifically, the new Security Council resolution #2397:

  • Caps crude oil imports “at current levels,” requires states to report on the crude oil they do export to North Korea, and it says it blocks the sale, supply or transfer of crude oil, refined petroleum and other raw materials to North Korea that exceed limits. (The Global Economic Report could not verify at the time of publication the amount of crude oil permitted to be exported to North Korea.)
  • Allows North Korea to continue receiving up to 500,000 barrels of refined petroleum a year, starting Jan. 1, 2018. (A previous resolution adopted in September had limited imports of refined petroleum to 2 million barrels a year.)
  • Calls on UN-member states to return all North Korean foreign workers and the oversight attachés who monitor them back home “immediately but no later than 24 months.”
  • Instructs UN-member countries to “seize, inspect, and impound” vessels in their ports or territorial waters under suspicion for trading goods that UN resolutions prohibit, including coal, oil and other commodities.
  • Puts prohibitions on new and existing joint ventures with North Korea, with the exception of the China-DPRK hydroelectric power project and the Russia-DPRK Rajin-Khasan port and rail project.
  • Calls on member states to implement nine previous resolutions passed since 2006.

Compromise and Conflict

While members all say they support the common goals of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and achieving a diplomatic solution, they are deeply divided on their willingness to engage economically with the rogue nation, and on the use of counter measures, such as military exercises missile defense systems by the United States, Japan and South Korea.

Russia and China oppose unilateral sanctions, counter military exercises and defense systems, and say that sanctions alone will not solve the nuclear problem. Moreover, Russia defended its use of guest workers from North Korea.

“Incidentally, I would like to inform the Secretary of State of the United States that the North Korean workers in Russia are not working in conditions of slavery but on the basis of an inter-Governmental agreement with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that guarantees their rights,” said Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, during the council’s meeting.

It is not clear how effective previous sanctions have been at cutting off North Korea’s economic lifeline and the government’s ability to fund its nuclear weapons program. In 2015, North Korea traded $2.8 billion in exports and $3.5 billion in imports in 2015, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity. China, India, Pakistan and Burkina Faso were the top receiving countries.

Source: OEC. All years.

Ship-to-Ship Trade

The 2017 UN Security Council resolutions calls for reporting and monitoring of trade with North Korea beginning January 1, 2018. That should help observers distinguish between legitimate and illicit trade.

U.S. reconnaissance satellites captured images of Chinese ships trading oil with North Korean ships on the West Sea 30 times since October 2017, according to Chosun Ilbo News, a South Korean news outlet.

Source: The Chosun Ilbo. Photos taken Oct. 19, 2017. These unclassified U.S. photos reportedly show Chinese and North Korean ships trading oil on the high seas. Two new UN Security Council resolutions aim to prohibit these type of exchanges.

The ship, the Rye Songgang 1, has also been spotted in 2017 by maritime observers off the Russian port of Vladivostok.

These ship-to-ship trades are now considered illegal under a UN Security Council resolution, 2375, adopted in September.

New Authority

With the new authorities under the Dec. 22 resolution, UN member states are allowed to seize, inspect and freeze any vessel in its ports or territorial waters that it suspects has violated UN Security Council sanctions.

Empowered by the new authority, South Korea today seized a Hong Kong-flagged ship that it suspected of ship-to-ship oil transfers with the Rye Songgang 1 in October. According to various news sources, the ship, the Lighhouse Winmore, carried the Hong Kong flag but is leased by a Taiwanese company called the Billions Bunker Group Corp. The 25-member crew includes 23 Chinese nationals and two from Burma.



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About Author

Patti Mohr is an independent journalist living in North Carolina. She has a Master's Degree in International Commerce and Policy from George Mason University and a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and a certificate in journalism from the University of Cincinnati. After spending 12 years working in Washington, D.C., Patti moved to North Carolina where she consulted clients with their resumes and began working in property management. She continued to work on research and writing on an independent basis and conceptualized the structure for a media organization that would support independent journalism. Patti's lifelong dream is to pursue a career in writing about international relations. She has a strong belief in the fundamentals of journalism, namely the pursuit of truth, the maintenance of independence from sources, and in the verification of information. She is a reliable researcher with strong analytical and problem-solving skills.