China may be officially adhering to tough new sanctions against North Korea, but it appears that some Chinese ship captains aren't so willing. The Chosun Ilbo, a prominent South Korean newspaper, reports that US reconnaissance satellites have captured images of Chinese vessels transferring oil to North Korean vessels at sea. And it's no one-off: The report says such transfers have happened 30 times since October. The Financial Times reports that diplomats have confirmed the allegations. The transfers would be in violation of a Security Council resolution passed in September prohibiting ship-to-ship transfers of oil and other goods to North Korea. The big question, however, is whether the central government in Beijing knows about the deals and is turning a blind eye.
If so, that could have consequences, according to Bill Bishop of Axios: "If the Trump Administration views Beijing as not faithfully implementing what it agreed to then new sanctions against more Chinese individuals and firms, including a major oil company and a large financial institution, are increasingly likely." The transfers appear to have picked up after the Security Council imposed tough new limits on the amount of oil North Korea can import. An analyst tells the Financial Times that it's likely government officials on the local level are aware of what's going on, but his guess is that "the central government wouldn't know." (Read more China stories.)