Indo-Pacific partners eye North Korea for sanctions violations

Indo-Pacific partners eye North Korea for sanctions violations

Felix Kim

Indo-Pacific defense partners are boosting monitoring of the region’s waterways after Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) reported multiple violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions by North Korea over the past two years.

Japanese forces witnessed 24 violations, some involving ship-to-ship transfers, between early 2018 and March 2020, Japan’s Ministry of Defense reported in December 2020. North Korea has been sanctioned by the U.N. for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

North Korean-flagged tankers and foreign-flagged vessels were observed “lying alongside each other on the high seas of the East China Sea,” the Defense Ministry stated in its official journal, Japan Defense Focus. “As a result of a comprehensive judgment across the government, it is strongly suspected that the vessels concerned were engaging in illegal ship-to-ship transfers.”

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted instances of banned ship-to-ship transfers in the East China Sea. In January 2020, a Japanese naval vessel spotted a North Korean-flagged tanker alongside a vessel of unknown origin about 240 kilometers east of Shanghai. The ships were connected by hoses. One month earlier, a JSDF air patrol spotted another North Korean tanker similarly engaged with a smaller vessel about 290 kilometers southeast of Shanghai. (Pictured: The North Korean-flagged tanker Nam San 8, right, makes a ship-to-ship transfer in December 2019.)

The sightings prompted defense partners to intensify surveillance. Beginning in October 2020, the armed forces of Australia, Canada and New Zealand teamed with the JSDF to monitor the waters surrounding Japan.

The Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Winnipeg deployed to the area in early October, marking the fourth time since 2018 that Canadian vessels had joined the effort. Canadian military aircraft also participated in November and December 2020.

The Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Arunta also traveled to the region in October to conduct surveillance.

In October and November, a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 aircraft patrolled the waters around Japan in concert with Australia, which deployed three AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft. New Zealand forces first deployed to the area for similar missions in September 2018, conducting air patrols with their Australian counterparts, Reuters reported.

Japan’s Defense Ministry said these multilateral efforts demonstrate the solidarity of the international community “for the realization of North Korea’s dismantlement of all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.