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(News Focus) Seoul aims to tighten screw on N. Korea with new sanctions

All News 18:30 March 08, 2016

SEOUL, March 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's fresh sanctions against North Korea reflect its determination to tighten the screws on the isolationist country by cutting off sources of hard currency that can fuel its nuclear and long-range missile programs, experts here said Tuesday.

South Korea on Tuesday unveiled its own punitive actions against North Korea following tougher United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions over the North's latest nuclear test and long-range rocket launch.

Seoul's measures included a ban on the entry of vessels into South Korea that have sailed to North Korea in the past 180 days, and tighter control on North Korean products so as to prevent them from entering the country.

The government also blacklisted scores of key North Korean officials and organizations suspected of being involved in the development of weapons of mass destruction.

The move is aimed at preventing these people and entities from making financial transactions with South Korean banks and freezing their assets in the South.

South Korea has joined countries including the United States and Japan in taking its own punitive measures against Pyongyang in a bid to faithfully enforce the U.N. resolution for more stringent sanctions.

Seoul's latest move came about one month after the South shut down a joint industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong, putting an end to the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation.

The blacklisting of key people and entities may not have an immediate impact as those on the list are not known to have assets in South Korea, nor conduct financial transactions with South Korean banks, but it can raise awareness about their suspected illicit acts globally, according to local officials.

"By raising awareness about the risks of transactions with them, we hope that the sanctions could eventually cut off sources of hard currency that can be used for the North's nuclear and missile programs," a government source said.

It is noteworthy that among those on the list is Kim Yong-chol, a North Korean party secretary handling inter-Korean affairs, who served as a top military official masterminding the North's sporadic provocations against the South.

Kim is thought to have been behind the North's deadly attacks on South Korea in 2010 and a land-mine blast along the inter-Korean border in August last year. In 2010, the North sank a South Korean naval vessel and shelled Yeonpyeong Island in November.

Also among entities on the list are North Korean banks and firms suspected of helping the North's regime rake in dollars from workers dispatched abroad.

But Seoul did not blacklist the North's powerful National Defense Commission or Hwang Pyong-so, director of the general political bureau of the Korean People's Army (KPA).

Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was also not be on the list though she is believed to be handling the North's foreign currency funds.

Meanwhile, experts said North Korea is likely to face severe strains as Seoul's entry ban on vessels that have come from the North would make foreign ship owners shy away from dealing with the North.

South Korea has already banned North Korean-flagged vessels from entering the South's ports or passing through its territorial waters under its existing sanctions imposed in May of 2010.

In 2015, a total of 66 third-country vessels that made stops in North Korea entered South Korean ports, according to the government. They mainly transported steel and miscellaneous goods.

"From now on, any ships that hopes to dock in South Korea should not travel from North Korean ports," said Lee Suk-joon, the top official in charge of government policy coordination at the Prime Minister's Office, in a press conference.

Seoul's move to impose a virtual "sea blockade" would effectively put an indefinite suspension on a trilateral logistics project involving the two Koreas and Russia, experts say.

The so-called Rajin-Khasan logistics project calls for the shipment of Russian coal into South Korea through the North Korean port city of Rajin.

The project, along with the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, has been regarded as an exception to Seoul's 2010 sanctions banning cross-border exchanges. The government announced on Feb. 10 that it will suspend operations at the industrial park.

South Korea has informed Russia it is putting on hold the project as part of unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang.

"The government has explained to Russia that the imposition of the fresh sanctions is an inevitable decision in response to the North's nuke test," South Korea's top nuclear envoy Kim Hong-kyun told a briefing.

He said that whether to resume the project would hinge on North Korea's willingness to give up its nuclear weapons.


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