Japan, South Korea and the United States have imposed sanctions on North Korean officials connected to the country’s illicit weapons programmes, with Washington saying Pyongyang’s ballistic missiles “pose grave risks to the region and the entire world”.
The US Treasury Department on Thursday named the individuals as Jon Il Ho, Yu Jin, and Kim Su Gil, all of whom the European Union designated for sanctions in April.
The sanctions freeze any US-based assets of the individuals and bar dealings with them but appear largely symbolic.
South Korea’s foreign ministry announced sanctions on seven other individuals, including a Singaporean and a Taiwanese person, and eight entities. All are already under US sanctions imposed between January 2018 and October 2022, the ministry said.
Japan also designated three entities and an individual for new sanctions, Japan’s foreign ministry said, including the Lazarus Group, which is suspected of carrying out cyberattacks.
China and Russia have blocked recent efforts to impose more United Nations sanctions on North Korea, saying they should instead be eased to jumpstart talks and avoid humanitarian harm. That has left Washington to focus on trilateral efforts with Japan and South Korea, as well as European partners.
The latest sanctions follow a November 18 intercontinental ballistic missile test by North Korea, part of a record-breaking spate of more than 60 missile launches this year and amid concerns the country may be about to resume nuclear weapons testing, which has been suspended since 2017.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the tests threatened global security and that the latest punitive measures “underscore our sustained resolve to promote accountability in response to Pyongyang’s pace, scale and scope of ballistic missile launches”.
The Treasury said the missile tests “demonstrate the need for all countries to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions”, which are intended to prevent North Korea from acquiring the technologies, materials and revenue it needs to develop its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.
It said sanctioned officials, Jon Il Ho and Yu Jin, had played crucial roles in the development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) while serving as vice director and director, respectively, of North Korea’s Munitions Industry Department.
It said Kim Su Gil served as director of the Korean People’s Army General Political Bureau from 2018 to 2021 and oversaw implementation of decisions related to the WMD programme.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said the latest move was part of its attempt to sternly respond to North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats.
Decades of US-led sanctions have failed to halt North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear weapon programmes.
“Targeting senior officials inside North Korea responsible for WMD and missile activities and working with South Korea and Japan are important, but it is an inadequate and symbolic response to 60+ missile tests, including 8 ICBM tests,” said Anthony Ruggiero, who headed the US’s North Korea sanctions efforts under former President Donald Trump.
“The Biden administration should sanction Pyongyang’s revenue and force Kim Jong Un to make difficult decisions about his strategic priorities,” he said.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said earlier that Washington was committed to using pressure and diplomacy to entice North Korea into giving up its nuclear arsenal.
He said the administration had no illusions about the challenges but remained committed to holding Pyongyang accountable.
A spokesperson at the White House National Security Council said sanctions had been successful in “slowing down the development” of the weapons programmes and Pyongyang had turned to “increasingly desperate ways to generate revenue like virtual currency heists and other cybercrime to fund its weapons programs”.
“The DPRK’s decision to continue ignoring our outreach is not in their best interest, or in the interest of the people of the DPRK,” the spokesperson said, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name.