Updated 8:44 AM EDT, Wed, Aug 18, 2021

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China Issues Embargo Against 31 North Korean Vessels


(Photo : Reuters) The freighter Mu Du Bong of North Korea's Ocean Maritime Management (OMM) Company is seen in the port of Tuxpan, in Mexico, in the above photo taken in October 2015. Ships from the same company have been subject to previous UN embargoes.

Beijing on Wednesday ordered China's maritime authorities to ban 31 North Korean vessels from entry into the country's harbors. The ban follows the United Nations Security Council's (UNSC) approval of the latest round of international sanctions against Kim Jon Un's government for its nuclear weapons and missile development programs.

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The banned vessels are blacklisted under the UNSC sanctions.  The ships belong to North Korea's Ocean Maritime Management (OMM) Company, which has been subject to previous UN embargos.

In a notice to China's maritime agencies, the Chinese Ministry of Transport instructed coast guard and port authorities to report if any of the banned ships are in Chinese waters or harbors. 

The embargo on the 31 vessels forms part of the "exceedingly sensitive" work of enforcing the UNSC sanctions, according to the notice. 

No Agreed Distinction

The new sanctions require UN member states to inspect cargo going in and out of North Korea, and restrict supplies of aviation fuel for Kim Jong Un's armed forces. 

They also ban the sale of all small arms and conventional weapons to Pyongyang, and prohibit transactions that raise cash for its nuclear and missile programs through the sale of North Korea's natural resource products.

The Chinese embargo on the OMM vessels is seen as an indication of Beijing's determination to carry out the new sanctions.  

Critics, however, have been quick to point out that the sanctions have been weakened by loopholes arising from conditions added to accommodate the requests from the governments of China and Russia. 

One such loophole, critics claim, is that North Korea can still import oil and sell minerals for 'livelihood' purposes.  Nations that continue to trade with the North under these conditions are not obliged to report transactions to the UN sanctions committee.

Inspectors would be hard put to distinguish whether cargo will serve livelihood or military purposes as there is no agreed UN distinction between the two, critics have argued. 

International Obligation

Analysts like Andrea Berger, deputy director at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), have also expressed doubts over Beijing's ability -- and willingness -- to enforce the sanctions to their fullest. 

Berger suggests previous sanctions against Pyongyang failed partly because of China's loose implementation.

"Indeed, given China's abysmal record on implementing previous softer cargo vigilance measures, it is difficult to envision Beijing taking systematic action to inspect North Korean cargo, however 'inspect' is defined," Berger wrote in a recent report for 38 North.

Illicit trade constitutes a significant portion of the commerce between China and North Korea, according to Reuters.  Most of that illegal interchange takes place along the 1,700-kilometer border shared by the two countries. 

When asked about Beijing's plans to carry out the sanctions, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said enforcement of the punitive measures against its neighbor is China's obligation to the international community.

"China has been faithfully observing relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and fulfilling its international obligations," Hong said.  "There is no reason for us to make an exception this time."

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