|North Korean sand, a U.N.-banned item, will be shipped to China, in what is seen as Beijing's possible defiance of the sanctions on Pyongyang amid a Washington-Beijing trade row, according to sources familiar with the North. / Yonhap|
By Yi Whan-woo
China appears to be loosening the noose on North Korea, casting a shadow over the nuclear sanctions on the North amid the ongoing Washington-Beijing trade dispute, according to sources familiar with Pyongyang.
They said Russia also appears to be going easy on the North in what is interpreted as a plot to maintain leverage on Pyongyang after their leaders' April meeting in Vladivostok.
"A North Korean trading company signed a contract with a Chinese trading company to export 1 million cubic meters of North Korean sand," a source directly involved with the matter told The Korea Times.
Used in construction, sand is one of the banned items under U.N. Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2397 imposed against North Korea in December 2017 over its ballistic missile tests. Resolution 2397 is touted as the toughest among the UNSC's nine major sanctions emplaced since 2006.
The contract is estimated to be worth at least $3 million. North Korea will be paid when the sand is delivered by December in line with the deal, the sources said.
The price is relatively inexpensive, given that Chinese builders have preferred North Korean sand over Chinese sand because of quality and they used to buy it from the North at a higher price.
"The latest deal is seen as China's warning to the U.S. that the sanctions depend on how cooperative Beijing is," said Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University.
He added China will also not let the U.S. get closer to the North than Beijing has been, because any failure to keep the U.S at bay would mean China losing influence amid the Washington-Beijing trade row.
Russia has been suspected of overlooking North Korea's exploitation of a loophole on the UNSC sanctions aimed at preventing North Korea from forcing its workers to earn cash abroad.
The sanctions ban U.N. member states from granting extensions to work permits for North Korean laborers and, accordingly, require them to return home when their work permits expire.
But the sources said Pyongyang has recently begun sending workers to Russia again for education and training purposes, and is having them earn money after being hired by companies there.
"Russia, like China, wants to maintain leverage on North Korea and it may be overlooking Pyongyang's exploitation of the U.N. sanctions," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. "It's possible the summit between their leaders in April prompted Moscow to go easy on Pyongyang."