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A domestic loophole in sanctions

July 19,2018
It had been the unwavering stance of South Korea, the United States, Japan, the European Union and the rest of the United Nations members to keep sanctions on North Korea intact until the country makes decisive denuclearization action. Sanctions are the sole means of denuclearizing the recalcitrant country.

But a UN internal report shockingly found that South Korea had violated the UN Security Council resolution by allowing two ships carrying North Korean coal into the country. According to an annual report released by an expert panel under the UN sanction committee, coal shipments that left from North Korean ports of Wonsan and Chongjin were unloaded six times at the Russian port of Kholmsk from July to September of last year. The coal was reloaded onto ships registered in Panama and Sierra Leone that made stops at Incheon and Pohang in early October.

The two ships carried 9,000 tons of North Korean coal valued at around $600,000. Local authorities are cooperating with UN inspectors on whether the coal had been circulated in South Korea. Under UN Resolution 2371, which was adopted by the Security Council last August, trade, shipments and transshipment of North Korean coal and other minerals is strictly banned.

The Foreign Ministry said that authorities learned of the illegal shipments ahead of the UN, and are investigating South Korean importers. Seoul could avoid accountability if an individual or private company violated the UN clause. The agency under question could also claim that the cargo had been shipped before the ban went into effect.

South Korea must plead for cooperation and support for sanctions on North Korea. The same vessels reportedly docked in South Korean ports in February, a move that could raise suspicions over the Moon Jae-in administration’s enforcement of sanctions. The government must thoroughly investigate and prevent any recurrence. Otherwise, South Korea loses its grounds for mustering international support to denuclearize the North.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 18, Page 30