U.S. officials say they have satellite photographs showing Chinese cargo ships loading North Korean coal in defiance of U.N. sanctions, beginning just days after the sanctions were imposed.
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the six Chinese vessels tracked by American satellites employed techniques such as turning off their automatic identification systems before making port in North Korea to pick up their illicit loads of coal.
The first ship of interest, the Glory Hope 1, loaded North Korean coal just a few days after the sanctions were passed—with China’s approval—in August. It lingered for an unusually long time at a Chinese port after returning from North Korea, in what the American officials believe was a ruse to make it look like the ship was loading Chinese cargo. In truth, it ferried up to $1.5 million worth of coal in defiance of the United Nations. Other shipments tracked by the U.S. went to Russia and Vietnam or were transferred to other vessels at sea.
All six of the ships in question are either managed or owned by Chinese companies or Hong Kong firms. Four other ships with no obvious connections to China were identified by the U.S. as sanctions violators.
The United States has presented its evidence to the United Nations and asked for all ten of the ships caught by satellite surveillance to be labeled sanctions violators. China objected to such a designation for the six Chinese vessels but allowed the four non-Chinese ships to be so designated.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Chinese government has investigated four of the six Chinese ships and arrested at least one manager connected with them. China insists it is fully complying with U.N. sanctions and will investigate all reported violations.
President Donald Trump and other administration officials have praised China for cooperating with sanctions against North Korea’s nuclear missile program. The president most recently offered such praise a few days ago, in an Oval Office interview where he blasted Russia for helping North Korea evade the full brunt of sanctions.
“Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea,” Trump complained. “What China is helping us with, Russia is denting. In other words, Russia is making up for some of what China is doing.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to Trump’s allegations on Friday by insisting that Russia will honor all of its international commitments regarding North Korea. He added that in Russia’s view, it is the United States that refuses to cooperate on solving “international problems” like the Korean nuclear issue.
“As for the lack of cooperation, we have repeatedly reminded about that. Moscow seeks cooperation with the United States in a solution of all regional and international problems. Unfortunately, we feel a lack of willingness precisely on part of our U.S. colleagues. We still feel it, and express our regret in this regard,” said Peskov.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also blasted the North Korea summit hosted by the United States and Canada in Vancouver this week, calling it “absolutely unacceptable” for the countries involved to “take upon themselves the role of ‘helper’ to the U.N. Security Council and interpreter of its resolutions, thereby putting its authority into doubt.”
“Such events, conducted hastily and to the detriment of functioning multilateral formats, are not contributing to the normalisation of the situation around the Korean peninsula, but on the contrary, aggravating it,” the Foreign Ministry charged, prompting the U.S. State Department to point out that the meeting was planned for months in advance, not convened “hastily.”