Dec. 8 (UPI) -- China and North Korea could be defying international sanctions on North Korean coal and engaging in trade without concealing the activity, according to a recent press report.
U.S. government officials who spoke to The Wall Street Journal and provided recent satellite photos said ships from both countries are breaking international law that bans North Korea from exporting coal.
"It is not particularly disguised or hidden," a U.S. official said. "The fact that China is making it easier on them makes it a much more reliable revenue stream than they've had."
Evidence indicates Chinese-flagged cargo ships have been traveling to North Korea to transport coal picked up at the North Korean port of Nampo.
In April, Planet Labs, a U.S. satellite imaging and analytics company, captured images of a coal ship at Nampo during an earlier stage of the coronavirus pandemic, Voice of America reported at the time.
North Korea could also be growing bolder at sea. North Korea-flagged vessels were seen moving hundreds of coal shipments to the Ningbo-Zhoushan area of eastern China, U.S. officials told The Journal. North Korea has previously concealed its activities with foreign-flagged ships.
North Korea is banned from exporting coal. The United Nations Security Council in August 2017 passed Resolution 2371, which banned all exports of coal, iron, lead and seafood. Any North Korean ships carrying coal to a U.N. member state would be found in violation of sanctions.
North Korea's coal exports were banned because of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons and missile programs. According to The Journal, in 2020 North Korea may have earned anywhere from $330 million to $410 million in revenue in coal exports.
China is North Korea's biggest trading partner and has been previously linked to illicit use of North Korean guest workers.
Japan's Mainichi Shimbun reported in October China may have allowed 10,000 North Korean laborers into the country in violation of international sanctions.