NEW YORK (YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - North Korea has sold fishing rights to Chinese fishery operators in violation of UN sanctions on Pyongyang, according to an upcoming annual report by a UN Security Council expert panel.
North Korea has used the sale of fishing rights as an important means of acquiring foreign currency, the report says. In some cases, Chinese fishing boats flew the North's national flag in an attempt to disguise themselves.
The latest revelation is based on details in the report, a copy of which has been obtained by The Yomiuri Shimbun.
The panel of experts is tasked with monitoring the implementation of UN sanctions against the North. Every March, it publishes an annual report that calls attention to North Korean attempts to skirt the sanctions.
The panel's previous reports have found that North Korea violated sanctions in its exports of coal, imports of refined petroleum and assistance to Syria, a nation suspected of chemical weapons use.
From January to November 2018, more than 15 Chinese fishing ships operating in the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea and elsewhere were confirmed to possess North Korean fishing licenses, according to information in the forthcoming report provided by two UN member states.
Through testimony obtained from Chinese fishery operators, the panel learned that about 200 Chinese fishing boats are operating in waters around North Korea, and that fishing licenses are sold for about 810,000 Japanese yen (S$10,023) per month. The testimony has also shed light on the practice of Chinese fishery operators purchasing licenses through intermediaries. Some Chinese vessels carried the North Korean national flag in an attempt to pass themselves off as ships from the North.
North Korea is said to have begun selling fishing rights several years ago. In August 2017, the Security Council adopted a resolution imposing a total ban on North Korean exports of marine products, stating the country's sale of fishing rights was a measure to obtain foreign currency. Another resolution adopted in December that year confirmed that the sale of fishing rights falls under exports of marine products, making clear that such sales are the target of sanctions.
In response to an inquiry about Chinese fishing boats holding North Korean fishing rights, the Chinese government told the panel that it quickly issued the required notice after the council adopted the resolution to ban the sale of fishing rights, according to the report. Beijing also said that Chinese corporations have stopped purchasing fishing rights from the North, the report said.
Meanwhile, South Korea's National Intelligence Service reported to the legislature in 2016 that the North had sold fishing rights to about 1,500 Chinese fishing boats that year, a three-fold increase from the average year, adding that the country had earned about US$30 million (S$40.4 million) from the sales.
The Japanese government is also aware of the situation. In a speech before a ministerial-level meeting of the UN Security Council in September 2018, Foreign Minister Taro Kono cited the sale of fishing rights as an example of cunning attempts by the North to evade UN sanctions.
A US report on North Korean attempts to evade sanctions is also attached to the forthcoming report. The US document states that the North imported refined petroleum products on at least 148 occasions from January to August 2018, using illicit ship-to-ship transfers in international waters.
If all of these cargoes were fully loaded, the amount of imported petroleum would be about six times the upper limit set under the resolutions, according to the panel's estimate. The figure was determined by updating the data that the United States submitted to the panel in July last year.
The report concludes that North Korea has continued to defy UN resolutions.