A bipartisan group of lawmakers is demanding the White House take action to sanction Hezbollah leaders following the disclosure of new evidence indicating the Lebanese terror group is manufacturing and stashing weapons beneath residential buildings in Beirut. Lawmakers recently were made aware that Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militant group, is storing precision-guided missiles and related components under civilian buildings in and
WASHINGTON—The United States on Monday imposed fresh Iran-related sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic’s oil sector, including the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum, in Washington’s latest move to increase pressure on Tehran. The U.S. Treasury Department in a statement said it was slapping sanctions on key actors in Iran’s oil sector for supporting the Quds Force, the elite foreign paramilitary and espionage arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. “The regime in Iran uses the petroleum sector to fund the destabilizing activities of the IRGC-QF,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement. The minister of petroleum, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and National Iranian Tanker Company were also blacklisted alongside other individuals and entities in Washington’s move on Monday, which freezes any U.S. assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them. The action imposes counterterrorism sanctions on NIOC, the National Iranian Tanker Company and National Petrochemical Company, which had previously been blacklisted by Washington under different authorities. Tensions between Washington and Tehran have soared since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal struck by President Barack Obama and began reimposing U.S. sanctions that had been eased under the accord. Iranian oil exports rose sharply in September in defiance of U.S. sanctions, according to three assessments based on tanker tracking, throwing a lifeline to the Islamic Republic and its collapsing economy. Exports have shrunk from over 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) since the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal. Still, Iran has been working to get around the measures and keep exports flowing. “The few remaining buyers of Iranian crude oil should know that they are helping to fund Iran’s malign activity across the Middle East, including its support for terrorism,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a separate statement. The Treasury also imposed sanctions on Mahmoud Madanipour and United Arab Emirates-based Mobin International Limited, accusing them of entering into an agreement with Venezuelan state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to ship gasoline obtained from NIOC to the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The British-based companies Madanipour, Mobin Holding Limited, and Oman Fuel Trading Ltd were also blacklisted. Mobin International and Oman Fuel have said they were the owners of the cargo aboard several tankers confiscated by U.S. authorities in August. The U.S. Justice Department said the cargo was destined for Venezuela, whose oil industry is also under U.S. sanctions, but the companies denied in court filings that Venezuela was the destination.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that China will impose unspecified sanctions against Lockheed Martin, Boeing Defense, Raytheon, and other “individuals and companies who behaved badly in the process of arms sales” to Taiwan.
The Chinese regime will impose unspecified sanctions on Lockheed Martin, Boeing Defense, Raytheon, and other U.S. companies it says are involved in Washington’s arms sales to Taiwan. China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Oct. 26 the move was to protect the regime’s national interests, but did not specify what form the sanctions would take. The Chinese Communist Party considers self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory and refuses to recognize its sovereignty. Beijing has never ruled out using force to bring it under the Party’s control. The move comes after the U.S. State Department approved an arms sale to Taiwan that could have a total value of $1.8 billion, the Pentagon said last week. The proposed sale has been submitted to Congress for final review, where it is unlikely to be opposed. The package includes 135 SLAM-ERs—a type of advanced air-launched cruise missile—made by Boeing; Himars mobile artillery rocket systems by Lockheed Martin; and surveillance and reconnaissance sensors by Raytheon, to be mounted on aircraft. Beijing has previously imposed sanctions on U.S. companies for selling weapons to Taiwan, but no details were provided on the nature of the penalties. Most recently in July, it placed unspecified sanctions on Lockheed Martin for being involved in a $620 million sale of Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Taiwan. Boeing said in an emailed statement that the company’s partnership with China’s aviation community had long-term benefits and Boeing remained committed to it. Lockheed Martin said that all of its international sales are strictly regulated by the U.S. government, and that its presence in China is limited. Raytheon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The United States, like most countries, has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but Washington is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself. The Trump administration has ramped up support for Taiwan through arms sales and visits by senior U.S officials. Meanwhile, Beijing has sharply escalated military pressure on Taiwan in recent months. So far this year, Chinese military aircraft have crossed the sensitive “median line” of the Taiwan Strait—a demarcation that has served as an unofficial buffer zone—49 times, the highest number in a given year since 1990. U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien said this month that while China probably was not ready to invade Taiwan for now, the island needed to “fortify itself” against a future attack or any bid to isolate it through non-military means, such as an embargo. Reuters contributed to this report.
The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday announced sanctions against a Russian government research institution that has been accused of using the “destructive” Triton malware to target critical facilities in the United States. The malware is also known as TRISIS and HatMan and was designed to target industrial control systems. The majority of such systems monitor and enable safe emergency shutdown of industrial processes and critical infrastructure facilities to save human life. Such facilities deliver energy, water, transport, banking and finance, and other essential services. The Treasury Department noted that the Triton malware have been referred to by the private cybersecurity industry as “the most dangerous threat activity publicly known.” The malware was used against U.S. partners in the Middle East, the department said. Furthermore, hackers behind the malware “have been reportedly scanning and probing U.S. facilities.” The entity subject to the sanctions is the Moscow-based institute called the “State Research Center of the Russian Federation FGUP Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics,” known by the acronym “TsNIIKhM.” It had supported a cyber attack involving the Triton malware on a petrochemical facility in the Middle East in August 2017, by building customized tools that enabled the attack. TsNIIKhM is being designated pursuant under Section 224 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The sanctions effectively block TsNIIKhM from doing business with the United States. “As a result of today’s designation, all property and interests in property of TsNIIKhM that are in or come within the possession of U.S. persons are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them,” the Treasury Department announced. “Additionally, any entities 50 percent or more owned by one or more designated persons are also blocked. Moreover, non-U.S. persons who engage in certain transactions with TsNIIKhM may themselves be exposed to sanctions.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement that the Russian Government has been involved in “dangerous cyber activities aimed at the United States and our allies,” and the administration “will continue to aggressively defend the critical infrastructure of the United States from anyone attempting to disrupt it.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the Russian government “continues to engage in dangerous and malicious activities that threaten the security of the United States and our allies” despite claiming it would be responsible in cyberspace. “We will not relent in our efforts to respond to these activities using all the tools at our disposal, including sanctions,” he said. The sanctions come after a number of other U.S. actions and announcements against Russian state-sponsored hackers this week. On Monday, the Justice Department charged six agents of a Russian military intelligence agency known as GRU for a series of cyberattacks against other countries’ infrastructure. On Wednesday, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and other officials announced that Iran and Russia have gained access and obtained U.S. voting registration information “to influence public opinion relation to our elections.” On Friday, the FBI and the DHS warned of the activity by a Russian state-sponsored hacking group sometimes referred to by researchers by multiple names including Berserk Bear and Dragonfly. The hacker group has targeted dozens of state, local, tribal, and territorial U.S. governments, as well as U.S. aviation networks, the two agencies said in a joint alert.
The United States blacklisted Iraj Masjedi, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, and two senior officials of the Iran-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah on Thursday. Iran retaliated on Friday by imposing sanctions against the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Matthew Tueller, his deputy Steve Fagin, and Rob Waller, head of the U.S. consulate in the Kurdistan capital of Erbil. The U.S. Treasury Department said
China is set to ban exports of certain goods and technologies, to protect, as it claims, its national security. But is it going to have a similar effect as the U.S. sanctions? BHR Partners, a largely Chinese state-backed firm where Hunter Biden served as a director, has been investing in and acquiring sensitive technologies of interest to the Chinese regime. The U.S. designated six more Chinese media outlets as foreign missions. It’s to differentiate between news written by a free press, and propaganda distributed by the Chinese Communist Party. Sweden banned gear by Chinese telecoms companies Huawei and ZTE. And the U.S. stepped up an offensive to keep Huawei out of Brazil’s 5G market. And the United Nations will locate its first big-data center in China. The U.N. representative who signed the agreement is also Chinese. Subscribe to our Youtube channel for more first-hand news from China.For more news and videos, please visit our website and Twitter.
Four Hong Kong shipping companies sanctioned this week by the U.S. Department of State for doing business with an Iranian state shipping line have been traced to a single name, purportedly belonging to a person based in Shanghai, an RFA investigation has revealed.The U.S. on Monday named Reach Holding Group (Shanghai), Reach Shipping Lines, Delight Shipping, Gracious Shipping, Noble Shipping, and Supreme Shipping in a list of individuals and companies being sanctioned for "having knowingly sold, supplied, or transferred to Iran significant goods or services used in connection with the shipping sector of Iran."Reach Holdings' CEO Eric Chen, also known as Chen Guoping and president Daniel Y. He, also known as He Yi, were also placed under individual sanctions.The State Department said Reach Holdings and its shipping line had arranged berths at Chinese ports for vessels belonging to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) state shipping line and its Shanghai-based subsidiary, E-Sail.The Reach, Delight, Gracious, Noble and Supreme shipping lines had all knowingly sold, supplied, or transferred container vessels to IRISL or its subsidiaries, it said in a statement on its official website."Today, we reiterate a warning to stakeholders worldwide: If you do business with IRISL, you risk U.S. sanctions," the statement said.An investigation by RFA's Cantonese Service has revealed that Delight, Gracious, Noble, and Supreme shipping lines named in the statement all share a single, sole director: Shanghai resident Shen Yong, who has already been implicated in U.S. sanctions back in 2011.The four shipping lines have the same sole shareholder, the Cyprus-registered Santatos Shipping Co. Ltd. According to the U.S. State Department, they share the same Hong Kong registered address at a commercial building in Sheung Wan district.However, their Hong Kong company records listing gives an address -- also shared by all four companies -- at an industrial building in Kwun Tong.A visit to both addresses on Tuesday revealed that the Sheung Wan office is an empty space used by multiple companies needing to provide addresses in Hong Kong. A similar space was found when an RFA reporter visited the Kwun Tong address.A person who answered the registered company phone number said they were unaware of the U.S. sanctions, as they were merely providing secretarial services on contract.Asked the whereabouts of Shen Yong, the person replied: "He's in China right now. We are just a secretarial services company hired by him to register [here in Hong Kong]." A general view of Kwai Tsing Container Terminals for transporting shipping containers in Hong Kong, China July 25, 2018. Credit: Reuters 'White glove' buffer zonesU.S. political risk management consultant Ross Feingold said it has been common practice for companies to use Hong Kong as a "white glove" buffer zone through which to route their business with Iran or North Korea, thereby avoiding sanctions -- until now."If they want normal trade with the U.S. to continue, this method won't be available any more, now that the U.S. has abolished Hong Kong's special trading privileges," Feingold said. "The so-called white gloves won't mean anything.""The U.S. is treating Hong Kong companies the same way it treats mainland Chinese companies now."In November 2012, Hong Kong's Marine Department said 19 ships linked to IRISL would no longer be allowed to operate under its flag.Those ships were owned by King Power Holdings, of which Shen Yong was listed as a director in August 2019.On a Western blacklistIRISL has been on a Western blacklist of sanctioned entities for years because of allegations it transports weapons, which it denies.IRISL's fleet includes dry bulker and container ships, and the shipping line has tried changing flags and setting up front companies to get around sanctions in the past, both the U.S. Treasury and the EU have said.According to an Aug. 30, 2011 report in The Wall Street Journal, Iran's "shell game" started in 2008, after the U.S. first imposed sanctions on IRISL "for its role in provisioning Iran's rogue missile and nuclear programs.""IRISL responded by camouflaging much of its fleet, reflagging and renaming scores of its blacklisted ships," the paper reported at the time. "It parceled out some to newly minted affiliates and created shell companies abroad to serve as nominal owners. Behind the scenes, IRISL retained control."Back in 2011, the sole shareholder of King Power Holdings was initially Nominee Director & Shareholder Ltd, a British Virgin Islands-registered company, but its shares were transferred later that year to Kish Roaring Ocean Shipping Company, an Iranian company, of which it is also a director.Since August 2019, the sole shareholder of King Power has been Cyprus-registered company, Montenavo Shipping. This information changed at the same time that Shen Yong was named director.Reported by Tseng Yat-yiu, Gigi Lee, and Chan Jeon-nam for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
President Donald Trump on Monday announced a deal with the government of Sudan to pay $335 million in compensation to the victims of terrorism and their families. In return, Trump promised to remove Sudan from the U.S. government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Trump made the announcement on Twitter, where he specified that Sudan will not be delisted as
(UPI) — The Trump administration on Monday blacklisted two Chinese businessmen and six Chinese companies for doing business with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and in some cases of helping it to evade U.S. sanctions. In June, the United States sanctioned the IRISL and its Shanghai-based subsidiary the E-Sail Shipping Company for contributing to Tehran’s ballistic missile and military programs through
The United States has levied new sanctions on Iran. Thursday’s move now excludes eighteen Iranian banks from the international system. These Iranian banks that had thus far evaded the majority of re-imposed US sanctions were the specific target of the new measures. Foreign, non-Iranian financial institutions now also face penalties for conducting business with Iranian institutions. Earlier sanctions banned most major commercial sales and limited Iran’s oil trade. Iran is Now Mostly Cut off From the Entire International Financial System The latest sanctions increase the pressure on Iran and prevent the Iranian government from “gaining unlawful access to US dollars,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The measures virtually cut off Iran from the international financial system. The sanctions target 16 Iranian banks for their role in the country’s financial sector, one bank for being owned or controlled by another sanctioned Iranian bank, and one military-affiliated bank, Mnuchin said in a statement. Foreign companies that execute business with those financial institutions have 45 days to cease relations or face “secondary sanctions.” “Our sanctions programs will continue until Iran stops its support of terrorist activities and ends its nuclear programs,” Steven Mnuchin said in a statement, adding the administration seeks to cut off Iran’s “illicit access to US dollars.” Europe Criticizes the Strict Sanctions The extension of the punitive measures to foreign banks faces criticism from within Europe. European banks can now be subject to sanctions for conducting business with Iran that were previously permitted. The sanctions are due to come into force in 45 days and thus after the election. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced during the election campaign that he aims to focus on renewed diplomacy in the conflict with Iran. The multitude of active sanctions makes resetting relations between Tehran and Washington difficult, even under a potential Biden Administration. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Jawad Zarif criticized the sanctions. “Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the US regime wants to blow up our remaining channels to pay for food and medicine,” Zarif wrote in a recent tweet. “Iranians will survive this latest of cruelties. But conspiring to starve a population is a crime against humanity. Culprits & enablers—who block our money—will face justice.” What Economic Options Does Iran Have Left? The White House conducts a “maximum pressure” strategy against Tehran. President Donald Trump unilaterally terminated the “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal, in 2018, and reintroduced several sanctions against Iran while it coerced third countries away from Iranian oil under the threat of sanctions. Iran’s business is thus almost exclusively limited to deals with China and the United Arab Emirates. The country’s overall foreign trade, barring oil, is estimated to have amounted to $24.6 billion between March to August of this year. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reaffirmed the White House’s commitment to the current approach on Thursday, stating that “our maximum economic pressure campaign will continue until Iran is willing to conclude a comprehensive negotiation that addresses the regime’s malign behavior.” Implications of the Latest Sanctions Critics of the maximum pressure approach point out the redundancy of sanctions. Iran is already so heavily sanctioned that another set of restrictions does not make a considerable difference to the government. Tehran’s resilience may instead make it turn even more firmly to China, undermining the West’s leverage even further. However, the reality is that with companies from other countries now facing US sanctions for conducting business with Iranian banks, the latest sanctions are likely to isolate Iran further and to an unprecedented extent. The Iranian banks are now effectively excluded from the international financial system, depriving Iran of desperately needed financial oxygen. With the country already scrambling for dollars to pay for its imports, the new sanctions create an urgent liquidity crisis for the regime by making foreign exchange challenging to access. The results will be accelerated inflation by a double-digit rate and more expensive imports, all while the Iranian rial has hit record lows in recent weeks and with an Iranian population that is no longer impervious to the consequences of the regime’s conduct.
Questions are being raised again over the effectiveness of sanctions against North Korea after a recent United Nations (UN) report revealed that North Korea has successfully built miniature nuclear weapons. The UN document also states that the North Korean regime has achieved a key breakthrough in its nuclear program by creating a nuclear warhead small enough to be carried on a nuclear missile. The Recent Revelations The UN said on Monday that Pyongyang is violating international sanctions aimed at curbing its nuclear program by exceeding a cap on petroleum imports and sending its workers overseas, including a former Juventus footballer. Furthermore, the UN Security Council said an annual 500,000 barrel cap on imports of refined petroleum products had been broken in the first five months of 2020 alone. Considering US President Donald Trump has committed himself to bringing peace to the Korean peninsula, the world would normally look to his country for a reaction to a report like the one the UN has produced recently. Regardless, his administration is powerless until the winner of the November election has been declared. Sanctions Against North Korea are Failing Nonetheless, this news, alongside a series of revelations in the last month that have exposed how North Korea is evading US sanctions, calls into question the US’s approach toward North Korea. Earlier this month, NBC News obtained a trove of confidential bank documents which revealed how North Korea moves illicit cash across borders despite international sanctions to block Pyongyang’s access to the global financial system. The suspected laundering by North Korea-linked organizations totaled more than $174.8 million over several years, with transactions approved by American banks like JPMorgan Chase and the Bank of New York Mellon. Yet that does not mean sanctions have had no effect on Kim Jong-un’s regime. North Korea’s UN Ambassador Kim Song told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday that despite his country’s “reliable and effective war deterrent for self-defense,” international sanctions were a hindrance to the North Korean leader’s plans to accelerate his nation’s economy. This could be interpreted by the Trump administration as an admission that sanctions are damaging North Korea’s economy. Nonetheless, regardless of who wins the US election in November, peace seems unlikely for many reasons. Cooperation with China is Out of the Question Firstly, the West needs Beijing’s help to tackle North Korea, but a coordinated response with China is out of the question for now. Even if Joe Biden wins the US election, he will be forced to adopt a tough stance toward Beijing because of the coronavirus originating from there. Yet China provides North Korea’s economy with a critical lifeline, so assuming the current tension between Beijing and Washington does not escalate into a cold war, cooperation between the two powers may be necessary at some stage. Kim is aware that the number of sanctions against his regime will increase if there are no cuts to Pyongyang’s nuclear program, yet that has not stopped him from supposedly developing miniature nuclear weapons. It is clear he cannot be trusted to commit himself to peace, which means negotiations are a waste of time. North Korea’s Regime Must Go The only way peace can become a reality would be if North Korea’s regime collapsed, and this looks like a strong possibility. A long monsoon season damaged 96,300 acres of farmland and 16,680 homes, including roads and rail lines. Also, food shortages caused Kim to respond by ordering pet dogs to be confiscated for food. This is a regime in trouble and if it refuses to accept outside help, its end is inevitable. The more North Korea defies international sanctions, the less likely its leader is to commit to a reduction in its nuclear program. No matter who occupies the White House from January onward, they will probably struggle to ensure Kim commits to ending his nuclear program. To give peace a chance, the current regime in Pyongyang must go, and it must go as soon as possible.
U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy has held a rare meeting with Cambodia’s Minister of Defense General Tea Banh in the wake of sanctions Washington leveled against a Chinese developer operating in the Southeast Asian nation. The Union Development Group (UDG)—which is building the U.S. $3.8 billion-dollar Dara Sakor project including a seaport, resorts, and casinos in Cambodia’s Koh Kong province —was sanctioned by the Treasury Department on Sept. 15 under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act for land grabs, rights abuses, and corruption in the country. The Department also raised concerns that Beijing may be using the project to secretly build a naval base and airstrip for military use as part of a bid to secure its territorial claims in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Tea Banh, who last week said that UDG had been targeted unfairly and is operating in line with Cambodia’s laws, met with Ambassador Murphy on Monday at the Office of the Council of Ministers in the capital Phnom Penh to hold talks attended by senior officials of both the Defense Ministry and the U.S. Embassy. In a post to Facebook on Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy said Murphy “had a productive meeting” with Tea Banh, also Cambodia’s deputy prime minister, “to discuss a range of potential areas of strengthened security cooperation, as well as ongoing efforts to preserve Cambodia’s sovereignty.” U.S. Embassy spokesperson Arend Zwartjes told RFA’s Khmer Service in an email Wednesday that Washington is “hopeful that we can find a way to expand military-to-military cooperation” as a result of the talks. Cambodia’s Defense Ministry abruptly suspended annual “Angkor Sentinel” joint exercises with the U.S. military in 2017. The government had claimed it was too busy preparing security for commune elections in June 2018 to take part in the exercises, but they have yet to be reestablished. Observers said at the time that the moves indicated Cambodia was pivoting away from Western influence in favor of better relations with other countries on the rise in Asia, such as China. In April, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that his government would welcome resumed military drills with the U.S. but urged Washington to stop suggesting that Phnom Penh was responsible for ending the exercises. The possibility that China could establish a military foothold in Cambodia has long worried Washington. Vice President Mike Pence in 2018 wrote a letter to Hun Sen expressing fears that Cambodia might be planning to host Chinese military equipment at the Ream Naval Base in the coastal city of Sihanoukville, but Hun Sen dismissed the concerns. Ream base was at the center of controversy last year after The Wall Street Journal in July cited U.S. and allied officials as confirming a secret deal to allow the Chinese to use part of the base for 30 years—with automatic renewals every 10 years after that—and to post military personnel, store weapons and berth warships. The reported deal, which would provide China with its first naval staging facility in Southeast Asia and allow it to significantly expand patrols on the South China Sea, was vehemently denied at the time by Hun Sen, who said permitting foreign use of a military base in the country would “be in full contradiction to Cambodia’s constitution.” Cambodia's Dara Sakor airport is shown under construction by China's United Development Group (UDG) in a June 9, 2020 photo. Planet Labs, Inc. Reports dismissed Cambodia’s Ministry of Defense posted a statement on its website Tuesday saying Tea Banh reiterated that reports Cambodia will allow a Chinese military presence on its territory are unfounded. “Samdech Tea Banh said that Ream Navy Base is small and shallow and cannot accommodate big ships or big vessels,” the statement said, referring to the minister with an honorific title and adding that any development of the site will be “for Cambodian naval use only.” However, Tea Banh noted that development at Ream Navy Base had been studied over the last 10 years and upon completion would “welcome any ship.” “Tea Banh stressed that Cambodia’s constitution won’t allow any foreign military base on Cambodian territory,” the statement said. “Related to the U.S. concerns over Ream Navy Base, Tea Banh stressed that it will be solely reserved for Cambodian usage, not for foreign militaries.” Speaking to RFA, political analyst Em Sovannara said Washington routinely brings up the possibility of a foreign navy base to counter Chinese influence in Cambodia and to ensure Hun Sen’s government honors the country’s constitution. He said Cambodia should “show the world it is impartial and welcome all stakeholders.” “Cambodia should show it is not leaning toward any particular powerful nation and should open cooperation to all countries in a gesture of goodwill,” he said. Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
Iran and North Korea are once again taking center stage in American politics as US President Donald Trump intends to proceed with issuing an executive order imposing fresh sanctions on Iranians linked to his country’s energy industry, despite key European nations warning that he does not have the legal power to do so. The President has declared that anyone trading arms with Iran will remain subject to sanctions beyond October, the date the embargo was due to be lifted. Suspected North Korean Money Laundering Meanwhile, the effectiveness of sanctions is being questioned after NBC News obtained a trove of confidential bank documents which reveal how North Korea moves illicit cash across borders despite international sanctions to block Pyongyang’s access to the global financial system. The suspected laundering by North Korea-linked organizations totaled more than $174.8 million over several years, with transactions approved by American banks like JPMorgan Chase and the Bank of New York Mellon. During a time when Trump is keen to avoid war with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the US President has resorted to sanctions as a method of economic combat with the leaders of the two rogue states. North Korea Could Be Building up its Military Arsenal Trump has also used sanctions as a means of persuasion to force Rouhani and Kim back to the negotiating table. Throughout the first term of his presidency, Trump’s sanctions have failed to convince the Iranian and North Korean leaders to negotiate new peace agreements that would lead to a reduction of US sanctions, in exchange for the gradual end of Pyongyang’s and Tehran’s nuclear programs. The Daily Mail reports that South Korea’s incoming military chief Won In-choul is monitoring developments in North Korea, after satellite photos have revealed a flurry of activity at the Sinpo South Shipyard where Pyongyang builds submarines. This could be the first time that the country’s regime will showcase its largest missiles since 2018. With only less than two months before a presidential election, it is unlikely that Trump will achieve a landmark deal with North Korea to convince voters that he is the man who can tackle Kim. Sanctions Can’t Do Everything When President Obama issued fresh sanctions on Iran in July 2010, Nicholas Burns, the most senior professional US diplomat in the Bush administration, said they failed because countries like China ignored them. Yet the former president was able to eventually persuade the EU, Russia and China to support his 2015 Iran deal. The BBC’s Jonathan Marcus argued that sanctions can only work if they are universally applied. This is the issue that Trump faces – no other nation is following his lead on Iran or North Korea, mostly because he has fallen out with the nations involved in the 2015 Iran deal. If the US President wins November’s election, he must persuade his country’s allies to follow his lead on Iran and North Korea. Victor Cha, who was the director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council from 2004 to 2007, said Trump needs China’s help to tackle Jong-un as Beijing supports Pyongyang’s economy. Tensions between Washington and Beijing are only likely to escalate in the future, which means the two nations are unlikely to cooperate on peace in North Korea. Trump Can’t Solve These Problems on His Own Given Pyongyang’s recent problems regarding flooding and the economic effects of the coronavirus, it appears that the only way to defeat North Korea now is by hoping that its regime collapses, which means Trump could deploy more sanctions in the future to cripple Kim. Trump bragged that he will ‘have a deal with Iran within four weeks’ of his re-election, and to do so he must persuade his allies to support a deal that cuts US sanctions in exchange for the gradual end of Tehran’s nuclear program, as outlined by French President Emmanuel Macron last October. Considering the US’s allies refused to support Washington over its latest announcement on sanctions against Iran, it remains questionable as to whether they would support such a deal. If sanctions are a means to an end, then Trump has failed to deploy them effectively against Iran. North Korea’s money laundering scheme proves they are finding ways to break their own US sanctions. To end the threat that Iran and North Korea pose to Washington, Trump needs to be more imaginative.
A North Korean businessman on Friday appealed a December 2019 ruling by a Malaysian court that cleared his deportation to America over alleged money-laundering and violations of international sanctions on Pyongyang. Mun Chol Myong, 55, a longtime resident of Malaysia who has been in custody since May 2019, told a Kuala Lumpur High Court judge via his lawyer that he was not guilty of criminal charges filed against him in the U.S. “The extradition order against Mun is invalid because the offenses alleged by the United States did not occur in Malaysia. The defense team of the accused was also never allowed to debate the charges leveled against him by U.S. authorities,” defense attorney Gooi Soon Seng told Judge Ahmad Shahrir during Friday’s deliberations. Gooi further argued that U.S. prosecutors did not present evidence of alleged money-laundering by Mun. The hearing was the first in Mun’s case since last December, when the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court ruled in favor of the U.S. extradition request. At the time, Sessions Court Judge Rohatul Akmar Abdullah gave Mun and his legal team 15 days to lodge an appeal. Mun originally filed his appeal on Dec. 26, but has since hired a new defense attorney, Gooi. Court hearings were delayed for months due to the COVID-19 lockdown in the country earlier this year. After Gooi stated the reason for the appeal, the High Court judge asked the prosecution why Mun was not given an opportunity to defend himself in the lower court against the U.S. allegations. “Our reason is that the trial in Malaysia is to get permission to extradite Mun to the U.S.,” prosecutor Faizul Aswad Mas replied. “He will be given the opportunity to defend himself against money-laundering charges during a trial in the United States later.” Mun was not present during the court session but his wife and daughter were seated in the public gallery, along with two officials from the North Korean embassy. Judge Ahmad Shahrir said the court would issue a ruling in the appeal on Oct. 8. Controlled items Mun had previously denied allegations by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that he had led a group of criminals who had violated sanctions on North Korea by supplying luxury goods to his reclusive home country and laundering money through front companies. After his arrest, American authorities had requested his extradition on four charges of money laundering and two charges of conspiracy to launder money. Until his arrest last year, Mun had lived in Malaysia with his family for about a decade. In 2019, Malaysia’s government had agreed to the U.S. request for Mun’s extradition but he tried to fend it off by taking his case to the Malaysian courts. During his 2019 trial, prosecutors told the Sessions Court that between 2014 and 2017, Mun had laundered money through front companies using falsified documents. They also said he had shipped “controlled items” to North Korea when he worked in 2014 as a business development manager for a Singapore-based company, which allegedly supplied goods to the communist nation. Last year, a source in Malaysian intelligence told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, that the United States believed Mun had violated U.N. Security Council sanctions, which were aimed at depriving North Korea of funds that could be funneled into Pyongyang’s nuclear programs. Gooi, Mun’s new attorney, also defended Siti Aisyah, an Indonesian who was one of two women accused of taking part in the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, with a chemical weapon at a Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017. Siti and her co-defendant, Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam, were both acquitted of the charges early last year. Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
Cambodia’s government on Wednesday condemned the U.S. Department of Treasury’s decision to sanction a Chinese developer building a massive project in the country’s Koh Kong province over graft and rights abuses, calling the allegations “false” and saying the jungle resort plan was going ahead. The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Tuesday sanctioned Union Development Group (UDG) for the “seizure and demolition of local Cambodians’ land” during construction of the Dara Sakor project, prohibiting the company from doing business with any U.S. citizen and cutting it off from the U.S. financial system. The Treasury said that in order to obtain the land for the U.S. $3.8 billion-dollar project—which includes an airport, deep water seaport, and casino resort as part of an investment zone in the middle of the jungle—UDG falsified its registration to say that it was Cambodian owned before reverting to its true Chinese ownership and continuing to operate without repercussions. UDG was designated under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act for “acting for or on behalf of a current or former government official, who is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in corruption”—in this case, a Chinese-owned company acting on behalf of a Chinese official. The Treasury said some of UDG’s “seizure and demolition” of land for the Dara Sakor project was conducted through Kun Kim, a former senior Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) who the agency sanctioned in December last year for corruption. It said Kun Kim had directed military forces to prevent villagers from planting rice paddy fields on disputed lands, as well as burn down their houses and control their movements. The agency also raised concerns that Beijing may be using the project to secretly build a deep-water port naval base and airstrip for military use there as part of a bid to secure its territorial claims in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. It noted that Cambodian government spokesperson Phay Siphan has said Dara Sakor could be converted to host military assets. On Wednesday, Phay Siphan posted a message on his Facebook page denouncing the Treasury’s “false allegations” and said the agency had misquoted him. “It is an exaggeration,” he said of the statement. RFA’s Khmer Service was unable to reach Phay Siphan for comment on the sanctions. Calls to Kun Kim also went unanswered on Wednesday. Sok Ey San, spokesperson for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), told reporters that while Washington acted within its rights in leveling sanctions against UDG, the company’s project plan was vetted and approved by the Cambodia Development Council and would proceed as planned. “What we have done is a matter of sovereignty,” he said. “Foreign sanctions will have no impact as the development is moving forward without any obstacles.” Sok Ey San said he did not expect that the Treasury’s decision would affect bilateral relations between Washington and Phnom Penh. Sanctions welcomed The Dara Sakor project has been mired in controversy ever since UDG’s parent company, Tianjin Wanlong Group, was granted a 99-year lease to 90,000 acres along 20 percent of Cambodia’s coastline in May 2008. The lease, which was handed to Tianjin Wanlong without an open bidding process, provided the company with more than triple the size of any concession allowed under Cambodia’s land law and exempted it from any payments for a decade. UDG soon began clearing large swathes of forest from Botum Sakor National Park that was included as part of the land lease and forcing hundreds of families to relocate—many of which have yet to receive compensation they were promised as part of the deal 12 years ago. Meanwhile, much of the Dara Sakor project remains unfinished, and structures that wee built—such as the casino and hotel—have been largely left to rot. Few tourists visit the area and not many companies have signed deals to set up a presence in the investment zone. Thorng Chandara, Koh Kong provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, told RFA that the project has affected residents of two of the province’s districts, “more than 1,000 families” yet to receive compensation for being uprooted. He said residents were never informed about the development or given the opportunity to discuss how it should proceed. Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the founder of domestic environmental watchdog Mother Nature, welcomed the sanctions, saying Washington had sent Hun Sen a message that there will be more to come if he continues to abuse human rights and destroy Cambodia’s natural resources—and particularly if he allows China to build a military base in the country. “If the government allows Chinese military installations, not only will Try Pheap or Kun Kim be targeted, sanctions will affect Hun Sen’s family as well,” he said. “This is a message for Hun Sen to back down.” Rampant timber trafficking in Cambodia led the Treasury Department to sanction Try Pheap, a business tycoon with close ties to Hun Sen, and 11 of his registered entities at the same time as Kun Kim. Treasury cited his establishment of “a large-scale illegal logging consortium that relies on the collusion of Cambodian officials, to include purchasing protection from the government, including military protection, for the movement of his illegal products.” The possibility that China could establish a military foothold in Cambodia has long worried Washington. Vice President Mike Pence in 2018 wrote a letter to Hun Sen expressing fears that Cambodia might be planning to host Chinese military equipment at the Ream Naval Base in the coastal city of Sihanoukville, but Hun Sen dismissed the concerns. Ream base was at the center of controversy last year after The Wall Street Journal in July cited U.S. and allied officials as confirming a secret deal to allow the Chinese to use part of the base for 30 years—with automatic renewals every 10 years after that—and to post military personnel, store weapons and berth warships. The reported deal, which would provide China with its first naval staging facility in Southeast Asia and allow it to significantly expand patrols on the South China Sea, was vehemently denied at the time by Hun Sen, who said permitting foreign use of a military base in the country would “be in full contradiction to Cambodia’s constitution.” Beijing decries ‘unwarranted allegations’ On Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters at a regular press briefing in Beijing that the Chinese government requires overseas Chinese companies to abide by local laws and regulations and stressed that bilateral cooperation between China and Cambodia is “open, transparent, mutually beneficial and equal.” Wang said the U.S. “has repeatedly used unwarranted allegations that China’s relevant projects in other countries could be transformed into military bases to discredit and attack our normal cooperation with relevant countries.” “However, the United States itself has hundreds of military bases in more than 150 countries around the world,” he said, calling Washington’s approach “hypocritical.” Wang alleged that Washington has been “violating international law … to illegally impose sanctions on Chinese companies” in order to “contain and suppress China” and vowed that Beijing will “take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of its own enterprises.” The Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh issued a statement on its Facebook page Wednesday claiming that the Trump administration had “exaggerated the truth” in order to sanction UDG, calling the action a violation of Cambodian sovereignty and demanding that Washington reverse course. Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
A U.S. think tank is under fire from the Trump administration and its allies in Congress for hosting Iran's chief propagandist in an upcoming event that legal experts say runs afoul of American sanctions laws. The Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan U.S. think tank that employs numerous former government officials, is scheduled to host next Tuesday Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, the regime's top spokesman and architect of the landmark nuclear accord, for a virtual conversation on the Zoom meeting platform. The event comes just days after Iran tortured and executed popular Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari over his participation in a peaceful protest. The execution sparked outrage across the globe and is casting a shadow over the CFR event. Recent Stories in National Security Trump administration and congressional officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon about the upcoming event expressed outrage that CFR would host Zarif after his government executed Afkari, who has since become a poster boy for Iran's human-rights abuses. The event also runs afoul of U.S. sanctions laws, according to a legal group. Under strict interpretations of the current law, Americans are prohibited from providing any services, including technology services like those used to host the event, to sanctioned individuals such as Zarif. The event could serve as a test for the Treasury Department as it determines how the law should be enforced. While Americans are permitted to meet with sanctioned individuals under the auspices of the United Nations in New York City, meetings of this nature remain in a legal gray area. "Considering the Iranian regime's brutal execution of Navid Afkari on Saturday, no country or organization should be giving Foreign Minister Zarif a platform to spread his propaganda," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told the Free Beacon. "Zarif and his government should only be met with isolation and censure for their barbarity." If current law is enforced by the Treasury Department, both CFR and Zoom would be exposing themselves to sanctions violations. "From a legal perspective, this is pretty straightforward: The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control publishes a list of Specially Designated Nationals. American persons are prohibited from providing services, including technological services, to anyone on this list. Javad Zarif is an SDN because he is sanctioned under Executive Order 13876," said Brooke Goldstein, executive director of the Lawfare Project, a legal group that tracks malign regimes. Goldstein is also part of CFR's term member program, which seeks to partner younger members of the foreign policy community with more seasoned veterans. The Treasury Department, which is responsible for enforcing the sanctions, declined to comment on the matter. However, the department has probed similar events in the past. In 2016, U.S. officials reportedly raised issues with an event at the National Press Club that featured a sanctioned senior adviser to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who spoke via Skype. CFR spokeswoman Iva Zoric maintains the organization "has followed all directives and guidance from the Office of Foreign Asset Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury in arranging this event." Responding to criticism of Zarif and the Iranian government's policies, Zoric said the invitation does not represent an endorsement or approval of Zarif's policies or arguments. CFR has held past events with other controversial world leaders, including former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, former Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "Meetings organized by CFR give members the opportunity to challenge those that they do not agree with and ask the hard questions that leaders might not hear in other forums," Zoric said. Zoom, which is hosting the upcoming event, did not respond to requests for comment on the matter. Next week's virtual event is being billed by CFR as a "conversation with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif," according to an invitation for the event viewed by the Free Beacon. It will be hosted by CNN host and CFR member Fareed Zakaria. The event will focus on the Trump administration's withdrawal from the nuclear accord and its implications for diplomacy with Tehran and the region at large. CFR told its members in a Monday afternoon email viewed by the Free Beacon that "several individuals have written" to the organization urging it to cancel the event in the wake of Afkari's execution. CFR leaders will not heed these calls. "Canceling would establish a precedent and a standard that could preclude us hosting officials from a significant number of countries," the letter states. Iran hawks in Congress also expressed outrage that CFR would engage with Zarif as he provides cover for a regime that continues to fund terrorism across the globe and marches closer to a nuclear weapon. "It is deeply troubling that even after the torture and murder of Navid Afkari, the Council on Foreign Relations would give a platform to the Ayatollah's chief propagandist, who is sanctioned by our government for his ties to the top of the terrorist Iranian regime," Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) told the Free Beacon. Richard Goldberg, who served as director for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction at the White House National Security Council from 2019 to 2020, warned that CFR and Zoom could be exposing themselves to sanctionable activity. "Morality and decency alone should guide decision making for any organization planning to host Javad Zarif just days after this brutal murder by the Islamic Republic," Goldberg said. "True, providing Zarif a virtual platform may be a sanctionable activity and I expect CFR's lawyers will need to take a look at that. But come on: Is Fareed Zakaria really going to preside over this event right after they murdered Navid?"
The U.S. Department of Treasury on Tuesday sanctioned a Chinese developer for the “seizure and demolition of local Cambodians’ land” during construction of the Dara Sakor project in Cambodia, which has been touted by Beijing as one of the key pieces in its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. The sanctions by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which target perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, prohibit Union Development Group (UDG) from conducting business with any U.S. citizen and cuts it off from the U.S. financial system, the agency said in a statement. Additionally, land granted to UDG as part of a lease by the Cambodian government extends into Botum Sakor National Park, a protected area which can only be handed over by royal decree. The Treasury Department said that in order to obtain the land, UDG falsified its registration to hide its Chinese ownership. “After falsely registering as a Cambodian-owned entity in order to receive land for the Dara Sakor development project, UDG reverted to its true ownership and continued to operate without repercussions,” said Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “The United States is committed to using the full range of its authorities to target these practices wherever they occur.” The Treasury Department said that it had designated UDG for “acting for or on behalf of a current or former government official, who is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in corruption”—in this case, a Chinese-owned company acting on behalf of a Chinese official. Tuesday’s action was not the first taken by the Treasury Department against entities in connection with the U.S. $3.8 billion-dollar Dara Sakor project, which includes an airport, deep water seaport, and casino resort as part of an investment zone in the middle of the jungle in Koh Kong province. In December last year, the agency sanctioned former senior Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) general Kun Kim for corruption, noting that he was “instrumental in a development in Koh Kong province and had reaped significant financial benefit from his relationships with a People’s Republic of China (PRC) state-owned entity.” On Tuesday, the Treasury confirmed that some of UDG’s “seizure and demolition” of land for the Dara Sakor project was conducted through Kun Kim. “Specifically, with the assistance of Cambodian military forces provided through Kim, UDG prevented local villagers from planting rice paddy fields on the disputed land and was also accused of burning down the houses of villagers with whom it had conflicts, and of using private security and Cambodian military forces to control the movements of local villagers,” the statement said. “Cambodia’s Council of Ministers issued a directive ordering UDG to stop destroying villagers’ property; however, UDG ignored the directive and continued the destruction.” Controversial project The Dara Sakor project has been mired in controversy ever since UDG’s parent company, Tianjin Wanlong Group, was granted a 99-year lease to 90,000 acres along 20 percent of Cambodia’s coastline in May 2008. The lease, which was handed to Tianjin Wanlong without an open bidding process, provided the company with more than triple the size of any concession allowed under Cambodia’s land law and exempted it from any payments for a decade. UDG soon began clearing large swathes of forest from Botum Sakor National Park that was included as part of the land lease and forcing hundreds of families to relocate—many of which have yet to receive compensation they were promised as part of the deal 12 years ago. Meanwhile, much of the Dara Sakor project remains unfinished, and structures that are—such as the casino and hotel—have been largely left to rot. Few tourists visit the area and not many companies have signed deals to set up a presence in the investment zone. It is not entirely clear why Dara Sakor appeared to have been adopted as a Belt and Road project in 2017, when the China Development Bank told China’s official People’s Daily newspaper that it had underwritten a U.S. $15 million “Belt and Road” bond to support UDG’s building of a resort on Cambodia’s coast. The report did not mention Dara Sakor by name. The project was also included in a 2017 Belt and Road yearbook published by an affiliate of China’s Ministry of Commerce, describing it as “the biggest project of the Belt and Road initiative so far.” On Tuesday, the Treasury said that UDG-funded activities “have forced Cambodians from their land and devastated the environment, hurting the livelihoods of local communities, all under the guise of converting Cambodia into a regional logistics hub and tourist destination.” “As is too often the case with Beijing’s One Belt One Road initiative, these activities have disproportionately benefitted the PRC, at the expense of the Cambodian people.” Villagers in a land dispute with UDG protest in front of Beijing's embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 8, 2019. RFA Military use The opacity of the project has led to fears, particularly in Washington, that Beijing may secretly be building a deep-water port naval base and airstrip for military use there as part of a bid to secure its territorial claims in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. The Treasury said Tuesday that China “has used UDG’s projects in Cambodia to advance ambitions to project power globally,” noting that Cambodian government spokesperson Phay Siphan has said that Dara Sakor could be converted to host military assets. “A permanent PRC military presence in Cambodia could threaten regional stability and undermine the prospects for the peaceful settlement of disputes, the promotion of maritime safety and security, and the freedom of navigation and overflight,” it said. Vice President Mike Pence in 2018 wrote a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen expressing fears that Cambodia might be planning to host Chinese military equipment at the Ream Naval Base in the coastal city of Sihanoukville, but Hun Sen dismissed the concerns. Ream base was at the center of controversy last year after The Wall Street Journal in July cited U.S. and allied officials as confirming a secret deal to allow the Chinese to use part of the base for 30 years—with automatic renewals every 10 years after that—and to post military personnel, store weapons and berth warships. The reported deal, which would provide China with its first naval staging facility in Southeast Asia and allow it to significantly expand patrols on the South China Sea, was vehemently denied at the time by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who said permitting foreign use of a military base in the country would “be in full contradiction to Cambodia’s constitution.” Pivot to China Increased ties between the militaries of Cambodia and China, which now include annual joint military exercises, come as Phnom Penh has increasingly pivoted towards Beijing since finding itself ostracized by Western governments over significant rollbacks on democratic freedoms. In November 2017, Cambodia’s Supreme Court ruled to ban the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), months after its president, Kem Sokha, was arrested for an alleged plot to overthrow the government. The dissolution of the CNRP was part of a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on the opposition, NGOs and the independent media, which paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election. While relations with the West have increasingly soured in the aftermath of the ballot, Cambodia’s government has since touted improved ties with China, which typically offers funding without many of the prerequisites that the U.S. and EU place on donations, such as improvements to human rights and rule of law. Chinese investment now flows into Cambodian real estate, agriculture and entertainment—particularly to the port city of Sihanoukville—but Cambodians regularly chafe at what they say are unscrupulous business practices and unbecoming behavior by Chinese residents and worry that their country is increasingly bending to Beijing’s will.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday urged Southeast Asian countries to reconsider business deals with the 24 Chinese companies and individuals that Washington sanctioned last month for their roles in constructing Beijing’s artificial islands in the South China Sea. The Chinese state-owned companies strong-arm coastal Southeast Asian nations in the disputed waterway and these countries need to actively preserve territorial integrity, Pompeo said at an online meeting with foreign ministers from the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). “Reconsider business dealings with the very state-owned companies that bully ASEAN coastal states in the South China Sea,” said the top American diplomat at the annual meeting “Don’t just speak up, but act. … Don’t let the Chinese Communist Party walk over us and our people.” Pompeo further said that China doesn’t respect values enshrined in the ASEAN charter, while the U.S. does support Southeast Asian nations’ sovereignty and growth. “Beijing doesn’t respect the fundamental democratic values of those enshrined in the ASEAN charter: independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity. Today, I say keep going,” Pompeo said. “You should have confidence that America will be here in friendship to help you just as we have been for the last three and a half years.” As many as 24 Chinese firms and individuals were placed on a list of sanctions by the U.S. on Aug. 26 for what Washington said is their involvement in reclamation activities in the South China Sea. Pompeo said last month that the sanctioned firms and individuals were involved in China’s extensive dredging campaign in the waterway. Notably, ASEAN member the Philippines said earlier this month it won’t cut business ties with the Chinese firms Washington has blacklisted. The Philippine government said it would work with these Chinese companies because it is in the “national interest” to complete flagship infrastructure projects in the country involving these firms, said Harry Roque, spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte. “We are not a vassal state of any foreign power and we will pursue our national interest,” Roque said. “[T]he president was clear, he will not follow the directive of the Americans because we are a free and independent country, and we need Chinese investments.” Rising tensions Beijing, for its part, accused the U.S. of continuing to interfere in the South China Sea. On Wednesday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the U.S. the “biggest driver of militarization of the South China Sea,” Chinese media reported. “The United States is becoming the most dangerous factor damaging peace in the South China Sea,” Wang said at the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. “Peace and stability are China’s greatest strategic interest in the South China Sea,” he said, adding that those attributes were the common strategic aspiration of China and ASEAN. “China hopes that countries outside the region, including the United States, will fully respect the wishes and expectations of countries in the region, instead of creating tension and seeking profit from it.” China claims most of the South China Sea, saying it has “historic rights” to the waterway, where it has been building military installations and artificial islands as Beijing expands the footprint of its armed forces in the contested maritime region. China’s claims are demarcated by a so-called nine-dash line that appears on Chinese maps. Tensions in the region have been rising since Pompeo’s declaration in July that Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea are illegal. Washington, he said at the time, stands with its Southeast Asian allies “in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources.” In addition to China and Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam have territorial claims in the South China Sea. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone. Many ASEAN members say they are caught in the middle of the spat between Beijing and Washington. On Wednesday, the opening day of the ASEAN meeting, Indonesia and Vietnam said the South China Sea dispute threatens regional stability and that countries should settle the acrimonious row by adhering to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. Still, on Thursday, Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said the ASEAN-U.S. relationship “has brought about mutual benefit to both sides,” according to the Associated Press. “The U.S. role and contribution to maintaining peace, stability, and security in the region are encouraged,” he said. ASEAN Joint Communique The joint communique of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting, released Thursday, also highlights the South China Sea issue. The consensus document from the summit, held Wednesday, expresses concern over increased tensions in the disputed waters and affirms the need for freedom of navigation and overflight. “We emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states,” the communique states. “We further reaffirmed the need to pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS.” China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea were struck down in a landmark 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling, as judges found that China’s claims didn’t hold up under UNCLOS. ASEAN member states such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines have all emphasized UNCLOS and the 2016 ruling when discussing the South China Sea issue in recent months. Meanwhile, this year’s communique nearly didn’t mention UNCLOS, said Aaron Connelly, a research fellow at the Britain and Singapore-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. “There was an early proposal from Laos to remove any reference to UNCLOS, and that was rejected by ASEAN,” Connelly told Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews. He cited an earlier negotiating text he had knowledge of, and said there was a disagreement over the wording around UNCLOS that briefly held up the communique. Code of Conduct tussle This year’s joint communique also lauded the “progress of substantive negotiations toward the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (CoC) consistent with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, within a mutually agreed timeline.” In 2002, ASEAN member-states signed a Declaration of Conduct with China, expressing their willingness to peacefully settle disputes over the South China Sea. Close to two decades later, the group and China have not been able to agree on a follow-on document – called the Code of Conduct, or CoC – that would clearly set out guidelines for how claimants in the South China Sea must behave. Connelly said some ASEAN members were unhappy with the communique’s optimistic statement on the CoC. “China put a lot of pressure on ASEAN member-states to make a statement about progress on the CoC, even though there hasn’t been any progress since last year,” Connelly said. “If you read between the lines you can see some dissatisfaction among member-states on the lack of progress.” While the communique does not mention when negotiations on the CoC will resume, Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said during the ASEAN meeting on Wednesday that talks would restart “no later than” November, Bloomberg News reported. “ASEAN is allowing China to save some face but making it very clear that it’s unhappy about the current state of affairs,” Connelly said. Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
North Korea has set up a shoot-to-kill zone along its border with China to prevent citizens from crossing into China and bringing the coronavirus back with them should they return, the senior U.S. commander on the Korean peninsula said this week. Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of the United States Forces Korea, told an online forum hosted by a Washington think tank Thursday that North Korea had taken drastic measures on its border to stop the COVID-19 pandemic from spreading among its malnourished population and decrepit healthcare system. “North Korean smugglers have been trying to get across, and as a result, the regime issued out instructions. So now they’ve got an additional buffer zone, 1-2 kilometers up on the Chinese border,” he said. “They’ve got North Korean SOF [special operations forces] out there manning these things, strike forces, they’ve got shoot to kill orders in place, and this is fundamentally about preventing COVID from getting into North Korea,” Abrams told the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies on-line panel. The severe border control policies described by Abrams, who commands the 28,500 troops based in South Korea under a longstanding defense treaty, are nearly identical to accounts shared with RFA’s Korea Service last month in a series of reports from North Korean sources along their country’s 1,420-km (880-mile) border with China. On Aug. 26, RFA quoted sources in the North Korean military as saying that North Korea’s top brass had that day ordered military and police units to shoot on sight anyone found within 1,000 meters (0.6 miles) of the Chinese frontier in the four border provinces of North Hamgyong, North Pyongan, Chagang and Ryanggang. A build-up of forces to fight the pandemic was also revealed in earlier RFA reports quoting sources in Ryanggang province that 1,500 Special Forces soldiers and border guards had been deployed in four layers along the Sino-Korean border to prevent illegal crossings during the pandemic and prevent smuggling by guards. North Korea and China suspended all trade and closed their border at the beginning of the pandemic in January. But the frontier had remained porous, because North Korea’s nascent market economy depends on the smuggling of goods into and out of China. Smugglers skirt U.S. and UN sanctions aimed at depriving Pyongyang of cash and resources that could be funneled into its nuclear and missile programs. “With COVID-19, that has accelerated the effect of sanctions on North Korea,” said Abrams, who called the harsh border controls by Pyongyang “understandable” in view of their threadbare safety net for the population of 25.5 million people. “They have a poor health system, 60 percent of their population is undernourished, they don’t have the medical capacity, and a very large outbreak could be devastating. So they are taking those matters into their hand,” the general said. Abrams said that North Korea was not showing any signs of lashing out at South Korea or Japan, or launching other provocations, prior to the November 3 U.S. presidential election. He said North Korea “is focused on getting their country back together,” referring to extensive damage caused by Typhoons Maysak and Haishen, which hammered North Korea’s eastern provinces one right after the other over the past week. Abrams said the country’s current difficulties pale in comparison to the 1994-1998 North Korean famine that killed millions of North Koreans -- as much as 10 percent of its population by some estimates. North Korea has still not reported a single confirmed case of the coronavirus. Though the country maintains outwardly that it is virus-free, the government has announced in public lectures to citizens that the virus was in April spreading in three areas of the country, including the capital Pyongyang.