DN - Defence Notes

Korea decisions - shutting down the DPRK's business

6th April 2017 - 12:04 GMT | by Wendell Minnick in Taipei


With North Korea responding to international sanctions against its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) development programme with smirks, the US administration has a myriad of policy options, including asymmetrical, to rein in Pyongyang's WMD efforts.

Former US intelligence and military sources outlined to Shephard a list of policy changes, the first of which was to shut down North Korean export companies working in the Asia-Pacific region.

For example, Taiwan has at least two North Korean front companies providing all manner of equipment, including computer/information technology equipment and industrial machinery such as high-tolerance lathes and drills.

Well-documented front organisations still exist in Malaysia, Micronesia, the Philippines and Thailand. In the past, some of these organisations were discovered in Singapore, only to be shut down after US government complaints.

Second, the US must get tougher on Chinese companies that do business with North Korea. In one visible example of this, China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Company (CSOC) may have blundered at the LIMA 2017 defence show in Langkawi, Malaysia, in late March.

For the first time, a Chinese 'defence' company provided product pamphlets that listed North Korea as a market for its weapon wares. In its 'Land-based Military Products' pamphlet provided by CSOC representatives, the 'DPR. Korea' [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] was listed under 'export markets'.

Other countries listed, with dubious human rights records and under a variety of UN and Western sanctions, included Sudan and Iran.

No specific weapon system was identified as being exported to North Korea, but products in the literature included C4ISR systems, targeting radars, photoelectric tracker pods, air defence close-in weapon systems, electronic warfare systems, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Crippling CSOC commercial exports of cargo vessels and transport ships would be a good start at punishing the company.

Third is to pressure the Chinese government to take action on North Korea by targeting the family members and children of Beijing elites, known as 'princelings', living in the US. This would include 'tossing some of them out of the US and sending the Internal Revenue Service to check on their business dealings', said a source.

Many princelings attend Ivy League universities and are considered untouchable by US law enforcement.

Fourth, intercepting North Korean drug trafficking was another suggestion, depriving the dictatorship of hard currency. One of the most dramatic cases, known as the Pong Su incident, occurred in 2003 when Australian authorities discovered a North Korean vessel transporting 125kg of heroin.

The crew was arrested after an Australian special operations unit raided the ship. Despite the notoriety of the incident, international arrests of North Koreans for drug trafficking has been recurrent since the mid-1970s.

Fifth, sources suggested that boarding North Korean vessels, whether flagged in another country or not, should be done aggressively on the open sea.

Such raids would stop the transfer of materials for WMD, impede drug trafficking, hamper covert operations that include kidnapping and assassination, encumber the transfer of large volumes of fake foreign currency for the international black market, and reap a wide array of intelligence.

Some activities could be covert with Australian, Japanese and US special operations forces working together, a source said. Another suggested that North Korean submarines that leave port 'never return… just disappear'.

Sixth, Richard Fisher, author of the book China's Military Modernization, said that China should be 'shamed for its two-faced' policy. For instance, it encouraged Six Party Talks while at the same time supplying North Korea with weapon systems.

The most obvious recent contribution, he said, was Chinese-built 16-wheel trucks for North Korea's new KN-08/KN-14 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

'No longer should Xi Jinping be allowed to bask at large Western summits and forums without being forced to respond publicly to direct questions about China's assistance to one of the world's most odious regimes,' Fisher said.

However, not everyone was open to the idea of ramping up sanctions and going covert on some operations.

Arthur Waldron, a prominent US specialist on Asia, said, 'We must exit denial and stop fantasising about changing North Korea.'

Waldron, who served as a member of the highly classified Tilelli Commission, which evaluated China operations of the CIA, said the US must try something different.

'We must recognise them, and put an embassy in Pyongyang with a SCIF [sensitive compartmented information facility] well supplied with alcohol and an ambassador who is a real Korea hand and speaks it gutter to yangban [the ruling class].'

He argued that if the US can recognise China, which has 'no meaningful human rights policy', then the US can also recognise North Korea.

'The North Koreans will eat grass… rather than give up their nuclear capability,' Waldron said. 'This is fait accompli; it's not going away… so it's better we open up shop.'

He suggested that the medium-term goal for the US should be to 'break the connection between China and North Korea, encourage multilateralism with Pyongyang's regional neighbours and then see what happens'.

'Attempting to work with our Chinese friends to do this is madness,' he concluded.

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