China sold North Korea at least $640 million worth of luxury goods in 2017 in defiance of international sanctions, a South Korean lawmaker claimed on Monday.
In a statement, opposition lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun accused China of selling Kim Jong-un lavish luxury items, allowing him to shower senior regime officials with gifts to help secure their loyalty as tensions with the United States reached a breaking point.
“Kim has bought lavish items from China and other places like a seaplane for not only his own family, and also expensive musical instruments, high-quality TVs, sedans, liquor, watches and fur as gifts for the elites who prop up his regime,” he explained. “With the growing loophole, Kim would be able to near his goal of neutralizing sanctions soon without giving up the nuclear weapons.”
Purchases of consumer electronics such as high-end TVs comprised over half of the total transactions, worth $340 million, followed by cars at $204 million and liquors at $35 million. Such purchases accounted for a staggering 17.8 percent of North Korea’s total imports from China last year, which Yoon said totaled $3.7 billion.
Yoon pointed out that the figures for 2017 were down from the 2014 peak of $800 million, but represented just a 3.8 percent drop from $666.4 million in 2016 despite the U.S.-led campaign to apply “maximum pressure” through economic sanctions to the regime in response to its nuclear weapons program.
Such figures, if correct, further underline Beijing’s unwillingness to cooperate with the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Kim Jong-un’s communist dictatorship with the aim of reaching a comprehensive peace agreement.
On top of selling hundreds of millions worth in luxury goods, countless reports have detailed how Beijing appears to be aggressively increasing trade with their close communist ally through an increase in coal shipments, the revival of construction projects, and expanding the tourism industry in North Korea by allowing Chinese citizens to visit.
China reportedly ramped up such activity in March after President Donald Trump announced a meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, a move that allegedly stunned Beijing who feared a loss of influence over a country that is totally dependent on their relationship.
As well as increasing trade, Beijing has also launched a charm offensive towards Pyongyang that has involved Kim visiting the country three times this year and Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping pledging his “unwavering friendship” to the Kim and his regime.
President Donald Trump has complained that China is not doing enough to help peace negotiations, and in August canceled a meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to North Korea as a result. However, such issues now appear to have been overcome, with plans still underway for a second meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un later this year.