China makes checks on shipments to North Korea

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China makes checks on shipments to North Korea

China has stepped up customs checks on cargo imported by North Korea, screening all containers to see if they contain blacklisted items.

The measure is part of China’s participation in the UN Security Council’s latest sanctions against the regime and follows the Bank of China’s shutting of the account of the Foreign Trade Bank, North Korea’s main foreign exchange bank, which was suspected of illegal currency transactions or money laundering.

“Recently Chinese customs ordered officials to intensify checks of all containers heading to North Korea, delaying the delivery of the cargo,” a businessman who trades with North Korea from Dalian in China’s Liaoning Province told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.

“Since the North’s nuclear test in February, customs has become really strict about cargo departing for North Korea,” he said. “Due to this, trade with North Korea has drastically diminished, and I guess it will continue to fall, having repercussions on the North Korean market.”

China’s action appears to follow UN Security Council Resolution 2094, which added more North Korean entities and individuals to an international blacklist in order to punish the North for its third nuclear test in February.

North Korea receives Chinese cargo mostly through the sea route connecting Dalian with Nampo, its western harbor city.

“Previously, customs allowed us to send cargo to North Korea seven times a week,” another business owner said. “But after the customs checks were intensified, the number of shipments into North Korea dropped to four or five times a week. They even started X-ray inspections from early this month.”

On Tuesday, the state-run Bank of China announced in a statement that it has shut all accounts of North Korea’s main foreign exchange bank and stopped all transactions with Pyongyang.

However, the JoongAng Ilbo found that the Bank of China still allows any North Korean who possesses a passport to open a new account.

“Starting in March, we have stopped all transactions with North Korean companies or entities as part of our participation in the UNSC resolution,” an official at the bank’s headquarters in Beijing said. “But we still allow any ordinary North Korean to open an account, as that is irrelevant to the resolution.”

The China Construction Bank also said yesterday morning that it “has prohibited any remittance to North Korea” but changed its words in the afternoon. It said remittances to the North are “still possible” at most branches.

On March 29, the Bank of China sent notices to all banks in China ordering them to “thoroughly adhere to UNSC resolution No. 2094.”

However, many banks including the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the Agricultural Bank of China, China Merchants Bank, and Bank of Beijing said yesterday that there was no problem in sending money to North Korea or in a North Korean opening a new account.

“We have not received any direction on prohibiting remittances to North Korea,” an official at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, said. “It is possible for a North Korean to open an account if he or she has a passport and has no problem with his or her identification.”


By Choi Hyung-kyu [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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