Dealing with North Korea and their proliferation of nuclear weapons along with their numerous human rights violations and their mistreatment of Otto Warmbier have escalated the likelihood of a major conflict taking place in the near future. President Trump and Secretary of State James Mattis have both said military options are on the table to effectively deal with the hermit nation. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has even warned a military conflict with North Korea is only weeks away from happening.
Complicating the situation is the relationship North Korea shares with China. North Korea’s largest trade partner is China, and President Trump has said he intends to pressure the Chinese to lean on North Korea in an effort to keep the totalitarian regime in check. However, this is easier said than done. The Council On Foreign Relations has indicated that the “China-North Korea trade has also steadily increased. Bilateral trade increased tenfold between 2000 and 2015, peaking in 2014 at $6.86 billion, according to figures from the Seoul-based Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.” This presents the United States and China with a precarious position, and now China has been caught violating sanctions and selling oil to North Korea ignoring current sanctions in place.
American intelligence satellites have captured pictures of Chinese ships selling oil to North Korean ships in 30 separate instances just in the month of October of this year. The Chinese ships conducted their illicit operations with North Korea in the West Sea in an area between South Korea and China. This was done in a bid to circumvent sanctions the United Nations has placed on oil exports to North Korea.
The photos showing the illegal sales of oil to North Korea were published by the U.S. Treasury Department. The sanctions imposed by the United Nations only allow for 500,000 barrels of oil to be exported to North Korea, and the sanctions also prohibit ship-to-ship trade between China and North Korea.
These photos undoubtedly place President Trump in the driver’s seat as he seeks to reign in North Korea’s behavior and prevent a war. Interestingly, it has been confirmed that despite China violating U.N. sanctions with these sales in October, the Chinese did not export any oil to North Korea in November. Chinese officials are claiming that they have always followed international law and U.N. sanctions when it comes to North Korea, with Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying saying, “As a principle, China has consistently fully, correctly, conscientiously and strictly enforced relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea. We have already established a set of effective operating mechanisms and methods.” A South Korean official countered with the statement that, “We need to focus on the fact that the illicit trade started after a UN Security Council resolution in September drastically capped North Korea’s imports of refined petroleum products.”
Despite the U.N. placing sanctions on North Korea, sources in the oil industry claim that China still supplies North Korea with about 3.8 million barrels of crude oil annually which is worth about $200 million.
China is now forced into a position they likely did not expect to find themselves in, as it is now likely the United States will seek some sort of punitive measure against China for violation of U.N. sanctions against North Korea. At the very least, President Trump now has significant bargaining power with the Chinese when it comes to matters of North Korea as well as other important trade issues.
China on several occasions has cut off oil exports to China, at least on the surface, with the understanding that the goal was to stop North Korea from advancing their nuclear program. These latest developments now show China has been talking out of both sides of their mouth and are directly responsible for putting the rest of the world in serious danger.
President Trump has not made any comments on these newly published photos, but the subject is sure to come up in his next cabinet meeting, along with the discussion of a strategy to ensure both China and Korea follow the U.N. sanctions in place.
This latest development does nothing to quell the fears of an impending war with North Korea, and it remains to be seen which side China will be on if war with North Korea initiates.
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