China is increasingly flouting international sanctions on North Korea and is no longer trying to hide some of its smuggling activity as it seeks to help Pyongyang endure the Trump administration’s pressure campaign, U.S. officials say.
For years, sanctions busting has been a cat-and-mouse game for Pyongyang: Ships operating under foreign flags from distant nations turned off their tracking beacons and took circuitous routes to try to avoid detection.
During the past year, however, North Korea-flagged vessels have lugged hundreds of coal shipments to China’s Ningbo-Zhoushan area, according to interviews with U.S. officials and U.S. government satellite photos provided to The Wall Street Journal.
Chinese-flagged cargo ships, meanwhile, have been traveling to North Korea to take on loads of coal at the port of Nampo, the photos also indicate.
“It is not particularly disguised or hidden,” said a senior State Department official. “The fact that China is making it easier on them makes it a much more reliable revenue stream than they’ve had.”