The Korea Herald


Sanctions target N. Korean satellites

S. Korean ban aimed at North’s plan to test missiles amid higher inter-Korean tension

By Choi Si-young

Published : March 21, 2023 - 15:36

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North Korea holds drills testing nuclear counterattack capabilities over the weekend in this photo released by the Korean Central News Agency on Monday. (KCNA-Yonhap) North Korea holds drills testing nuclear counterattack capabilities over the weekend in this photo released by the Korean Central News Agency on Monday. (KCNA-Yonhap)

South Korea on Tuesday revealed fresh sanctions banning items linked to North Korea’s satellite development, pushing for tighter curbs on its nuclear and missile programs amid the isolated country’s search for better “nuclear counterattack capabilities.”

The Foreign Ministry in Seoul announced a watchlist of 77 items -- including antennas, optical devices, solar panels and camera power supplies -- to prevent Pyongyang from importing such materials either directly or indirectly via a third country to build missiles. The North simulated a nuclear attack on the South and the US over the weekend.

“Export curbs have taken place at the international level. … But we are the first to specifically target North Korea’s satellite programs,” said Lee Joon-il, director general for North Korean affairs at the ministry. Many suspect that the reclusive regime is defying international sanctions banning ballistic missile launches, and uses satellite plans as a cover for advancing its missile technology.

A senior ministry official said the list widens blacklisted items by banning even low-grade materials -- non-high-tech equipment often used by military -- that ordinary people might not be aware have the potential to be used for missiles.

“North Korea is believed to be relying on such items because it is much harder to access military-grade equipment, which is usually banned already,” the official added, noting the Tuesday announcement would help raise the international community’s awareness of what it could do more to put checks on the North.

The announcement also added sanctions on four individuals and six groups believed to have ties to the North’s weapons programs. They all are already under US sanctions.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council still remains divided over how to deal with North Korea’s increasing aggression. 

On Monday, a UNSC meeting fell apart over calling out North Korea, as China and Russia -- Pyongyang’s biggest supporters -- refused to blame the North for higher inter-Korean tension. The 15-member UN body is unable to make a move unless the five countries with veto powers -- China, France, the UK, the US and Russia -- come to a unanimous decision.

Washington wants action on North Korea, but Beijing and Moscow contend the US and South Korea should suspend again their annual full-scale military drills, which the two allies resumed this month after a five-year hiatus meant to give room for diplomacy. That approach had not worked.

The North still labels the exercises “rehearsals for invasion,” while the South and the US maintain they need to test readiness. The two allies suspect North Korea’s planned launch of a spy satellite by April could be a cover for further missile tests.

Monday’s UN meeting is the latest highlight of many differences the two Koreas find harder to reconcile as they show no sign of a thaw in ties. A UN human rights meeting held the same day found out that access to food, medicine and health care are still the top priorities pressing North Korea, a cash-strapped country that saw people die from cold weather in January, according to Elizabeth Salmon, UN special rapporteur on North Korea’s human rights.

Shutdowns to prevent COVID-19 infections had dealt a blow to Pyongyang’s economy and such “border closures had led the regime to tighten controls on North Koreans and politicize its weapons development,” Voice of America said Tuesday, citing the UN rights rapporteur.

North Korea, which since 2016 has boycotted all UN human rights meetings, called such UN gatherings part of “Washington’s low blows” meant to tarnish Pyongyang, warning of “ultrastrong actions” in response.

“The way North Korea talks about international efforts on its rights abuses is the very evidence that Pyongyang is well aware of its ‘weakness,’” a senior Seoul official said. “The rights issues relate to a larger global audience because they deal with not only universal values, but international peace and security.”

Countering North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats is the priority and raising global awareness of rights abuses there is also high up on the agenda, the official added, referring to a South Korea’s plan to keep rallying the international audience.