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Vigilance is a must

July 25,2018
The United States has highlighted sanctions on North Korea again. In a joint announcement by the Department of State, the Treasury and the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. government on Tuesday issued a warning not to loosen sanctions on joint ventures with the North and its sending of workers overseas. It also warned about tactics used by Pyongyang to evade international sanctions. Washington took the action to cope with increasing loopholes in sanctions despite the slow pace of denuclearization. The Trump administration released a list of suspicious countries and companies together with the North’s smuggling methods.

The 17-pages of guidelines show how North Korea has been avoiding sanctions: first sending coal and agricultural produce to China and Russia and then reexporting them to a third country. North Korea also set up 239 joint ventures with foreign countries to disguise the origin of its products. China, which takes 90 percent of North Korea’s trade, is conniving at smuggling through the Yalu River.

The three summits between China’s President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un played a big part in weakening the sanctions. Kim called on Xi to ease sanctions even while dragging his feet on denuclearization. As a result, Chinese tourists to North Korea have increased tenfold over the past two months — from 100 to 1,000 a day. A high North Korean official in charge of trade asked China to offer economic aid. If this pace continues, international sanctions will lose momentum, and the prospects for denuclearization will fade.

The guidelines also said North Korea has been earning hard currency by dispatching workers to 42 countries, including Algeria, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, in areas such as garment manufacturing, construction, shoemaking and restaurants. Up to 90 percent of the money goes to the North Korean government. Hundreds of millions of dollars earned are used to develop nuclear weapons and missiles.

Surprisingly, South Korea is no exception. North Korean coal was shipped to South Korea via Russia last October. The foreign ministry reported it to authorities nine months after it took place. The United States has raised suspicions about Seoul turning a blind eye to the smuggling.

The Moon Jae-in administration must apply the strictest of standards to sanctions as Pyongyang has yet to implement denuclearization. The government should moderate the pace of inter-Korean exchanges. The same prudence is required for a declaration of the end of the Korean War. We urge our government to focus on denuclearization along with Uncle Sam.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 25, Page 30