Turning a blind eyeSouth Korean customs confirmed that North Korean coal and iron banned by a United Nations Security Council Resolution had been smuggled into South Korea. After an investigation, the Korea Customs Office recommended criminal charges against three South Korean nationals and three business entities for illegal imports and smuggling. According to its findings, the importers fabricated documents about the origins of the products to bring 35,038 tons of North Korean coal and pig iron worth 6.6 billion won (＄5.86 million) into South Korea from April and October 2017 on seven occasions. The shipments were transshipped through a port in Russia to be disguised as being of Russian origin.
UNSC Resolution 2397 adopted last December to punish North Korea for intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear tests were the toughest-yet set of international sanctions. It is a serious issue that South Korea, which should be the most ardent champion and upholder of international sanctions as the most concerned party, has violated the rules. Its violations could spark a U.S.-led secondary boycott or sanctions on South Korean enterprises or individuals doing business with the North.
The government claims it has been closely consulting with Washington and that it has confidence that it can shoot down the possibility of South Koreans being blacklisted for trading with North Korea. Diplomatic sources also believe Washington may let the latest incident pass.
But this should be a wake-up call for Seoul authorities. They should give serious thought about the shame the incident has brought on South Korea. They have lost international credibility. According to the findings of the customs office, the government learned of the suspicious imports more than a year ago, but did not act promptly. The government is suspected of condoning or turning a blind eye to the North Korean and Russian coal deals for more than a year.
We can hardly argue for strong international sanctions when we ourselves have not been fully carrying them out. There are muffled complaints about Seoul being overly anxious about striking a deal to proclaim an end to the Korean War.
The government must establish stronger networks among the Foreign Ministry, customs office, intelligence offices and maritime police for surveillance of suspicious shipments. It must be extra forceful to regain international confidence. The two Koreas will hold high-level talks on Monday to prepare for a third inter-Korean summit. Denuclearization must top the agenda instead of declaring the end of the war. If not, the world will look not only at Pyongyang but also at Seoul with suspicious eyes.
JoongAng Sunday, Aug. 11, Page 34