Chinese companies flood N. Korean trade fair despite Trump and U.N. sanctions

May 21, 2019 GMT

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 rhetorically upheld 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 in place to contain Pyongyang’s nuclear bomb and ballistic missile development.

This week’s trade fair is not unprecedented. The North Korean government has claimed to have held similar international trade fairs for the past 21 years in Pyongyang.

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 U.N. Security Council Resolution 2397 a resolution adopted in 2017 by the council, of which China is a permanent member.

What’s different this year is that the fair is much bigger, according to NK News, which cited North Korean state media reports over the past decade as showing far fewer foreign companies have attended previously.

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 excluding 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.

Mr. Trump said he had to walk away from the summit, which was held in Vietnam, because the North Koreans demanded sweeping sanctions relief in exchange for only a limited commitment to destroy part of their nuclear arsenal a characterization Pyongyang later challenged.