- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2019

More than 200 Chinese companies and dozens from Russia, Pakistan, Poland and other nations are participating in a major trade fair in Pyongyang, despite U.S. and U.N. sanctions aimed at blocking foreign investment across much of North Korea’s economy.

North Korean state media has touted the event as hosting companies from nations “where products made on the basis of advanced technology in various fields, including metal, electronics, machinery, building materials [and] transport.”

There was no immediate reaction from the United Nations, or from the Trump administration, which has imposed a broad slate of sanctions against Pyongyang, although actual enforcement has been limited and has mainly targeted Chinese shipping companies exporting metal and coal from North Korea.

U.S. and U.N. sanctions exist as punishment on North Korea for its decades-long violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions meant to contain Pyongyang’s nuclear bomb and missile programs.

This week’s trade fair is not unprecedented, although the current gathering comes amid reports that the nation is currently suffering a widespread drought and food shortages outside the capital city of Pyongyang. The North Korean government has claimed to have held similar international trade fairs for the past 21 years in the capital.

NK News, a North Korea-focused independent outlet based in South Korea, noted Tuesday that last year’s fair featured Chinese-made trucks for sale, in violation of a 2017 resolution by the U.N. Security Council resolution, where China is a permanent member. The news site said that far more foreign companies are attending this year’s fair.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, meanwhile, claimed “more than 450 companies” are participating this year, although it also said many are North Korean companies.

At least 216 of the companies are Chinese, according to NK News, which said a brochure for the fair was notable this year because it omitted any mention of so-called “joint ventures” between foreign companies and North Korean companies — ventures that were banned under U.N. Security Council sanctions in 2018.

The catch, according to NK News, is that footage of the event appears to show several joint venture companies actually presenting at this year’s fair.

It was not immediately clear how the development might impact ongoing tension and geopolitics around North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities. A diplomatic push to get Pyongyang to abandon it nuclear arsenal has largely stalled in recent months.

A second high-stakes summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was cut short in February after the two failed to strike a far-reaching deal to end the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

South Korean President Moon, a longtime supporter of detente with the North, has scrambled to keep the nuclear diplomacy and separate South-North peace talks alive. Seoul vowed Monday to move quickly on plans to provide $8 million worth of medical and nutritional aid for North Korean children in response to a large-scale drought in the North.

The Moon government said plans are being discussed to move the aid through U.N. agencies, including the World Food Program and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

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