Chinese Customs Officials Step Up Inspections of Cargo Headed For North Korea

north-korea-trader-dandong-customs-check-apr11-2013.jpg A man talks on a cellphone as he waits for dispatch at a customs port in Dandong, northeastern China's Liaoning province, April 11, 2013.

Chinese authorities have recently increased customs inspections of cargo bound for North Korea, more strictly enforcing existing customs procedures against their neighbor and ally in the wake of severe sanctions imposed by the United Nations, sources from North Korea said.

The U.N. Security Council, including China, unanimously adopted a resolution last month with its toughest sanctions to date against North Korea after the isolated, authoritarian nation conducted its fourth nuclear test in early January and a long-range rocket test in early February.

The sanctions are aimed at reducing Pyongyang’s ability to expand its nuclear and rocket programs.

The new resolution also calls for mandatory inspections of all cargo leaving and entering North Korea.

“It has become impossible to send so-called ‘apple rice’ to North Korea now,” said a trader in Dandong, a border town in northeastern China, in a reference to rice that China sends to North Korea packed in apple boxes rather than regular rice sacks.

But in this instance the source used “apple rice” to describe goods shipped between China and North Korea that are falsely identified on their outer packaging to conceal their true contents, such as materials used to manufacture narcotics in North Korea.

The fact that Chinese traders are no longer able to send “apple rice” to North Korea means that Chinese customs authorities are performing more thorough inspections at the border, the source said.

If such goods are discovered during the inspections, the traders will be fined, and all their freight will be confiscated, he said.

“The trading companies whose ‘apple rice’ is found through random inspections will be in big trouble and have to pay a large fine,” said the source, adding that the customs inspections process has become stricter for goods entering China from North Korea.

China stepped up inspections of North Korean cargo passing through all three of its northeastern border provinces following the U.N.’s adoption of fresh sanctions, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported in March.

Chinese customs officials in Dandong, however, are not inspecting all goods headed to North Korea, but randomly checking boxes on cargo trucks to compare the goods with lists of declared items, sources said.

Official levy taxes

A North Korean source from Haeju in South Hwanghae province who recently entered China said Chinese customers officials thoroughly inspected his hand-carried items at a checkpoint.

“I had to put my hand-carried items in an X-ray machine for them to be checked, but still had to open up the bags so a customs official could look inside,” he said.

The customs officials confiscated “excessive” amounts of particular items from various people at the checkpoint, he said.

Chinese customs officials are also now levying taxes on even the smallest number of handicrafts or accessories from North Korea, although they never did so previously, the source said, suggesting that China is abiding to terms laid out under the latest U.N. sanctions.

In the past, Chinese officials have been lenient about levying taxes on items from its poorer ally North Korea.

Chinese authorities are also taking special measures to prevent chemical products used in narcotics production from entering North Korea, he said.

Prior approval is required to take such products out of China and into North Korea, he said.

Although China has agreed to implement the U.N.’s latest round of sanctions, it has come under fire in the past for not enforcing previous ones, especially on luxury goods that go to North Korea’s elite.

Previously, when the U.N., United States, South Korea and Japan have imposed sanctions on North Korea to punish it for nuclear and long-range missile tests and other provocations, China filled the void by supplying the country with fuel, heavy machinery, grain, electronics and consumer goods.

Written by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Hee Jung Yang. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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