Photos: Office of Foreign Assets Control, US Department of Treasury
Photos: Office of Foreign Assets Control, US Department of Treasury

Beijing has been quick to deflect criticism after the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported on Tuesday that US reconnaissance satellites spotted Chinese ships selling oil to North Korean vessels.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying posed a series of questions for the newspaper, without calling it out by name.

“I am not fully aware of the situation you bring up,” Hua said in response to a question regarding the report. “I want to ask, is the media in question fully aware of the identity of the ship or ships? Whether or not these ships are on the UN Security Council sanctions list? If not, how can they be sure these ships were doing something in violation of a Security Council resolution? Is there definitive evidence?

Hua went on to question whether another country might be violating the sanctions, specifically pointing to the country where the “media in question” is based.

“Every Security Council resolution related to North Korea calls for using peaceful diplomatic and political means for resolving problems, emphasizing all relevant parties should implement measures to reduce tensions on the peninsula. Think dispassionately for a moment, are all the related parties really working hard to fully implement the related Security Council resolutions?! [Emphasis included in official foreign ministry transcript]”

The Chosun Ilbo reported that Chinese ships were spotted transferring oil to North Korean vessels in the West Sea around 30 times since last October. The satellite pictures reportedly show pictures of the names of the ships.

Ship-to-ship trade with North Korea on the high seas is forbidden in UNSC Resolution 2375 adopted in September, the report writes, but the violations are nearly impossible to detect without strict enforcement on the part of China.

The news comes after more than three weeks of negotiations on new sanctions between the US and China following North Korea’s last missile launch. During the talks, the US reportedly threatened to impose sanctions on Sinopec and major Chinese banks if they did not ratchet up pressure, according to a report from The Hankyoreh.

“The US indicated that it was willing to push forward with independent sanctions against China, and China warned that it would be forced to retaliate against independent sanctions,” one diplomatic source in Washington who spoke on the condition of anonymity was quoted as saying.

The US backed down from the demand that China shut off crude oil supply to the North as well as the threats of imposing independent sanctions in exchange for China’s cooperation on the new round of sanctions, multiple sources said.

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