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North Korea’s ‘strong’ reaction to the discussion of independent sanctions such as cryptocurrency… why?

Kim Yo-jong, Vice Minister of the Workers’ Party of Korea. (Chosun Central TV capture) 2022.8.11/News 1

North Korea showed a ‘strong’ response to the South Korean government’s review of its own sanctions against North Korea. Through a discourse in the name of Kim Yeo-jeong, vice director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, President Yoon Seok-yeol’s real name was mentioned and criticized, and Seoul was compared to a ‘target’ and threatened.

Recently, the South Korean and U.S. governments have continued consultations to take necessary measures to block illegal cyber activities, such as the theft of cryptocurrency, which has been pointed out as a source of funding for North Korea’s nuclear and missile development in the event of a major provocation, such as the 7th nuclear test.

In this situation, the fact that Vice Minister Kim raised the level of criticism and provocations toward the South is interpreted as proof that he is closely watching the discussion of sanctions between South Korea and the United States on North Korea’s cyber activities.

In a statement on the 24th, Kim Jong-un, the younger brother of North Korean Workers’ Party general secretary, Deputy Minister Kim, criticized not only the United States but also the South Korean government as “disgusting ignorance” for considering additional independent sanctions against North Korea.

Deputy Director Kim specifically targeted our side, saying, “I really look at what and how the ‘sanctions’ will be done to us now, and now I see all the stars.” ‘If (Korea) still feels so attached to it, try it a hundred times or a thousand times from now on,” he said.

In addition, in this talk, Deputy Minister Kim used the expression ‘idiot’ to President Yoon and ‘target’ to Seoul, repeatedly pouring out harsh words.

Vice President Kim’s ‘last words’ discourse has occurred several times in the past. However, this time, it is pointed out that it is necessary to review the background in that it has reacted sharply to sanctions against North Korea that have not yet been put into action, and that is, not at the UN Security Council level, but independently by each country.

North Korea has continued armed provocations with unprecedented frequency, such as resuming intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test-fires this year, but discussions on joint responses, such as sanctions at the Security Council, have virtually hit a wall. This is because China and Russia, which are North Korea’s main allies and permanent members of the Security Council, express their differences and put the brakes on joint responses whenever a Security Council meeting is convened to discuss North Korea.

Even when a resolution on additional sanctions following North Korea’s resumption of ICBM launches was put to a vote at the Security Council in May, both countries exercised their “veto power” and nullified it. In the Security Council, it is possible to adopt a new resolution only when at least 9 out of 15 member states are in favor and at the same time no one of the 5 permanent members (US, UK, France, China, Russia) exercise their veto power.

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As both China and Russia assumed their roles as ‘backing ships’ in the Security Council, North Korea ‘normalized’ provocations by firing ICBMs at least eight times this year alone (development tests and failure cases). North Korea’s ballistic missiles and all launches of flying vehicles using their technology are all violations of Security Council resolutions, regardless of flight distance or type.

Experts predict that “Even if the 7th nuclear test becomes a reality in the future, they will show a lukewarm response to sanctions against North Korea” given that China and Russia are insisting on the ‘US responsibility theory’ and ‘the uselessness of sanctions’ for North Korea’s provocations. It is also related to this that countries such as South Korea and the United States have been reviewing their own sanctions.

Even now, Korea, the United States, Japan, and major EU countries are operating their own sanctions in the economic and financial sectors in relation to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. However, in the meantime, there was no significant difference from the content of sanctions at the Security Council level, so the symbolic measure of ‘agreeing with sanctions’ was strong.

On the other hand, sanctions on North Korea’s illegal cyber activities, such as cryptocurrency theft, are not yet included in the sanctions at the Security Council level, so if each country connects and strengthens its own sanctions, it is pointed out that “it can be a threat enough to North Korea.”

According to diplomatic authorities, it is observed that North Korea has focused on hacking and stealing cryptocurrency and money laundering using it as the window for earning foreign currency through trade, financial transactions, and sending workers abroad has been closed due to sanctions by the Security Council.

The amount of cryptocurrency stolen by North Korea through the hacking of the blockchain-based game ‘Exinfinity’ in March was $620 million, equivalent to the cost ($400-650 million) spent shooting 31 ballistic missiles in the first half of this year. There is also an analysis that it reaches Russia (about 828.6 billion won).

In this regard, the U.S. government designated North Korea’s “three major hacking organizations,” Lazarus, Bluenoroff, and Andariel, as targets for sanctions in 2019, and in 2020 prosecuted hackers belonging to the North Korean Army Reconnaissance General Bureau. action has been taken The U.S. government also sanctioned two “mixer” companies that helped North Korean hackers “wash” stolen cryptocurrencies this year.

On the 14th of last month, the South Korean government additionally designated 15 North Korean nationals and 16 institutions as subject of independent sanctions for their involvement in North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and sanctions evasion, but cyber-related sanctions have not yet been imposed.

In this regard, U.S. Deputy Special Representative for North Korea Jeong Park attended the ‘Korea-U.S. Joint Public-Private Symposium on Countermeasures against North Korean Cryptocurrency Theft’ held in Seoul on the 17th, and said, “North Korea’s malicious cyber activities are a global problem, not just Korea and the United States.” We have to respond together,” he said.

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