U.S. spy satellites have captured images of Chinese ships illegally selling oil to North Korea vessels on the West Sea 30 times in the past three months, according to a South Korean newspaper.
Ship-to-ship trades with North Korea on the high seas are forbidden under United Nations sanctions adopted in September. The U.S. Treasury Department also placed six North Korean shipping companies on a sanctions list on November 21.
But according to South Korea’s The Chosun Ilbo, satellites have captured large Chinese and North Korean ships gathering side by side and trading oil. The high-quality spy satellites even show the names of the vessels.
One satellite picture, reportedly taken on October 19, shows a ship called Ryesonggang 1 trading the commodity with a Chinese vessel.
A South Korean government source told The Chosun Ilbo: “We need to focus on the fact that the illicit trade started after a U.N. Security Council resolution in September drastically capped North Korea’s imports of refined petroleum products.”
The covert trading began shortly after the sanctions were introduced to limit North Korea’s oil supply, in a bid to stop Kim Jong Un from further expanding the country’s nuclear and missile defense systems.
China is North Korea’s main source of fuel. On Tuesday, Chinese customs data claimed that November marked the second consecutive month Beijing did not send gasoline or diesel to North Korea. The data suggested China was going above and beyond the sanctions imposed by the U.N. to cap oil supplies to North Korea.
It is unclear whether the Chinese government is giving permission for these illegal deals to occur, but the large quantities of oil being traded makes it unlikely that officials are oblivious to the West Sea transactions.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying dismissed the reports on Wednesday. She told local press that she was not aware of The Chosun Ilbo article and then reminded the public that only ships on the Security Council list are completely banned from trade, The Financial Times reported.
“I want to ask you if these ships are on the list of the U.N. Security Council,” she said.
“If they are not on the list, then how can we be sure that they are violating Security Council resolutions? If there is solid evidence that Chinese persons have violated the Security Council resolution, then we will deal with this according to the law.”
More from Newsweek