Despite Beijing's Denials, 6 Chinese Ships Are Observed "Secretly" Breaking N.Korean Sanctions

China officials denied reality in December despite being "caught red handed" selling sanctions-defying oil to North Korea. However, the denials might be harder to justify, as WSJ reports citing satellite photographs and intelligence gathered by U.S. officials, at least six Chinese-owned or operated cargo ships violated UN sanctions against North Korea.

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The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. compiled the information from Asian waters as part of the Trump administration’s strategy to pressure North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

The effort identified the ships by name and tracked their movements.

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The ships entered ports in North Korea and transported what U.S. officials said was illicit cargo to Russia and Vietnam or made ship-to-ship transfers at sea.

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Additionally, U.S. evidence shows the ships made extensive maneuvers designed to disguise the violations.

WSJ reports that declassified intelligence reports, photos and maps shared with the U.N. by American officials asserted multiple instances of Chinese ships violating Security Council resolutions banning North Korean coal exports and ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum bound for North Korea. The Journal reviewed much of that evidence.

Within days after the complete U.N. ban was passed, the Glory Hope 1, a Chinese-owned vessel, entered the Yellow Sea near North Korea under a Panamanian flag. The ship crossed the Yellow Sea, entered North Korea’s Taedong River and then turned into the North Korean port of Songnim, according to the information presented to the U.N.

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The vessel turned off its Automatic Identification System, or AIS, a transmission device that discloses a ship’s position to other ships, satellites, and land-based tracking systems.

“When AIS is off in a vast sea, you are basically invisible,” said Ioannis Sgouras, a veteran Greek captain of crude-oil carriers. “You can still be picked up by other ships on radar if you are in range, but they can’t tell the ship’s name, cargo or destination.”

U.S. intelligence officials used satellite photos to monitor the Glory Hope 1 as it took on a load of North Korean coal Aug. 7. The ship then proceeded toward the coast of China, with its AIS still turned off.

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China’s foreign ministry said in a statement to the WSJ that it abides fully with Security Council resolutions and deals with violations in accordance with the law

In December, The Chinese delegation to The UN provided the sanctions committee with no formal explanation of why China was willing to allow some ships to go on the list but not others. Some U.S. officials believe the goal was to avoid the embarrassment of ships with Chinese ties being found in breach of U.N. sanctions.

Ironically, President Trump was bashing Russia yesterday for its ship-to-ship sanctions violations, and praising China for its help on North Korea.

Today's intel release may make that a little harder to defend.

Can you get caught red-handed-er?

The U.S. is likely to keep pressuring for tough enforcement of the sanctions. H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, warned in December that owners of ships that violate sanctions risk severe reprisals.

At a conference hosted by the Policy Exchange, a British think tank, Mr. McMaster said:

“A company whose ships would engage in that activity ought to be on notice that that might be the last delivery of anything they do for a long time, anywhere.”

That seems to sum things up pretty well!