Cold War allies put the squeeze on N. Korea

SEOUL • From kicking out North Korean workers and ending visa- free travel for its citizens, to stripping flags of convenience from its ships, Cold War-era allies from Poland to Mongolia are taking steps to squeeze the isolated country.

More such moves, with prodding from South Korea and the United States, are expected after North Korea recently defied UN resolutions to conduct its fifth - and most powerful - nuclear test.

North Korea's limited global links leave most countries with few targets for penalising the regime on their own. Mounting sanctions over the years have made Pyongyang more adept at evasion and finding alternative sources for procurement, according to a recent paper by experts at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Nonetheless, South Korea has been especially active in pushing the North's allies for unilateral action in hopes of reining in Pyongyang's arms programme.

"If longstanding friends of North Korea continue to publicly curb their ties with the country, Pyongyang will have fewer places overseas where its illicit networks can operate unhindered or with political cover from the host capital," said Ms Andrea Berger, deputy director of the proliferation and nuclear policy programme at the Royal United Services Institute.

South Korean officials have declined to say whether they have made inducements to countries to punish North Korea.

North Korea's limited global links leave most countries with few targets for penalising the regime on their own. Mounting sanctions over the years have made Pyongyang more adept at evasion and finding alternative sources for procurement, according to a recent paper by experts at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Presumably in the course of that diplomatic interaction it is also made clear to Pyongyang's partners that deeper trade ties with economies like South Korea will not be fully realisable" without taking steps against North Korea, Ms Berger said.

Angola, for one, has suspended all commercial trade with North Korea, banning its companies from operating in the country since the UN toughened sanctions in March, a South Korean foreign ministry official told Reuters.

Angola was suspected of buying military equipment in 2011 from North Korea's Green Pine Associated Corp, which is under UN sanction.

North Korea had also cooperated with Angola in healthcare, IT and construction, South Korea's embassy there said in December. Angolan officials did not respond to requests for comment, but the country told the UN in July it had not imported any light weapons from North Korea in recent years.

Most of North Korea's trade is with China, and experts warn that sanctions will have limited impact without Beijing's backing. South Korea's JoongAng Daily yesterday said China is investigating executives of a North Korean bank believed to have financed the illicit procurement of arms and materials related to the isolated country's banned nuclear programme.

It said the Chinese authorities were investigating a top official of the Kwangson Banking Corp at its branch in the Chinese border city of Dandong.

Also, more than 20 Customs and city officials in Dandong are being investigated over favours to Ms Ma Xiaohong, founder and top executive of Liaoning Hongxiang Group, the JoongAng reported.

In recent weeks, the Chinese authorities have frozen certain assets related to Ms Ma and some of her relatives and associates, according to government and corporate filings cited by the Wall Street Journal.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline 'Cold War allies put the squeeze on N. Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe