The U.S. and its allies want to eliminate North Korea’s mineral trade to cut funding for its nuclear program, but China is undermining those efforts.
After North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January, the United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 2270, which prohibited the export of North Korean coal, iron, and iron ore. Despite international pressure, reports indicate that China is still purchasing significant quantities of North Korea’s mineral exports.
Satellite imagery shows that the Musan Mine, a large iron ore mine in North Hamgyong Province, is still quite active, Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), explained in a 38 North report Thursday.
Lewis and his team analyzed around two dozen commercial satellite images of the mine and the Nanping-Chilsong border crossing. “The Musan Mine remains active and traffic between the mine and border crossing continues,” he argued.
“There are clear signs that trade is continuing,” Lewis concluded.
Much of Pyongyang’s revenue comes from its mineral exports. Restricting the sale of mineral goods would significantly reduce capital for isolated North Korea to fund its illicit nuclear program. China often invokes the “livelihood purposes” clause to skirt sanctions and continue pumping cash into North Korea.
“It appears that the livelihood exception in UNSCR 2270 has allowed this trade channel to remain open,” Lewis explained.
While China is publicly opposed to a nuclear North Korea, it fears that putting too much pressure on the fragile regime will result in a collapse and cause a humanitarian crisis to spring up on its border.
North Korea conducted a fifth nuclear test Sept. 9. In response, the U.S., South Korea, and Japan have been pursuing more stringent sanctions. They hope to close the “livelihood purposes” loophole, but China is demonstrating resistance.
“We cannot affect the well-being and the humanitarian needs of the people,” Chinese U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi recently told Reuters reporters.
In addition to importing iron ore, China is also importing coal. China reportedly imported 2.47 million tons of coal from North Korea in August.
As North Korea spends an estimated 15 to 30 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on its military, it is possible that funds from ongoing trade activities are contributing to North Korea’s nuclear provocations.
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