By Chris White
Satellite images have caught Chinese ships selling oil to North Korean vessels more than 30 times since the end of October, according to a report Wednesday from South Korean media.
Chinese and North Korean ships illegally swapped oil in a part of the West Sea that lies near China. The location of the trade was chosen presumably to avoid detection from South Korea.
“We need to focus on the fact that the illicit trade started after a UN Security Council resolution in September drastically capped North Korea’s imports of refined petroleum products,” a South Korean official told reporters.
U.N. Resolution 2375 forbids ship-to-ship trade with North Korea, yet violations do occur because it is nearly impossible to detect violators absent a Chinese crackdown on smugglers. Sanctions were slapped on the isolated communist country in September.
The revelation comes after reports indicated Tuesday that China did not export any oil products to North Korea in November as U.S. sanctions against the isolated country continue taking effect.
Sanctions have steadily increased as North Korea pushes forward on its nuclear and missile programs, despite years of U.N. resolutions prohibiting the actions. The U.N. Security Council imposed a new batch of limits on oil products to the country earlier in December.
China did not export any gasoline, jet fuel, diesel or fuel oil, or any other petroleum products to North Korea in November, according to a Reuters report that relied on General Administration of Customs data for its conclusion. China’s hold on oil exports to the moribund country is rare.
The country shut off the oil spigots to North Korea in 2003 for three days after Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, launched a missile into waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. China is the main source for the country’s oil, though it does receive shipments from Russia.
The data did not reveal if China still sells crude oil to Pyongyang, because Beijing has not disclosed its crude exports to North Korea for several years. Industry insiders believe China supplies 3.8 million barrels of unrefined crude to North Korea through a dilapidated pipeline connecting the countries.
South Korea’s report could complicate things for Chinese and U.S. relations. President Donald Trump has given China credit for taking a tough line against North Korea. The Trump administration, for instance, convinced Chinese President Xi Jinping to take a stronger line against Kim Jong-Un over the North Korean president’s nuclear program.