If sanctions against a target regime can be thought of as antibiotics, then North Korea has largely become drug-resistant. Indeed, North Korea is exhibiting “superbug” traits, increasingly impervious to sanctions, according to John Park.

Park is the director of the Korea Working Group at the Harvard Kennedy School. He spoke on January 14 at a meeting of the Boston Committee on Foreign Relations.

Every nuclear test by North Korea has been followed by a round of additional sanctions, Park said. Yet, despite these constraints the North Koreans have made rapid progress in developing their missile and nuclear capabilities.

Park’s research is based on interviews with elite North Korean state trading company officials, a small group within the approximately 30,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea. Embedded in the Chinese marketplace, these individuals excelled at procuring the components that led to the rapid development of North Korea’s missile and nuclear capabilities.

These procurement agents bought the critical components from China-based Western and Asian companies that were producing goods at the same level of advanced technology as in their home markets. As a result, the North Korean regime was not obtaining outdated technology, but the “good stuff,” Park said.

How the North Korean-Chinese commercial partnership operated

Here’s how it worked: North Korean businesspeople embedded in China paid a Chinese company a commission. That company went, for example, to a German company to purchase dual-use industrial equipment. The Chinese company would outsource shipping to a local logistics company, which would deliver the goods to North Korea. Leveraging diplomatic credentials, North Korean procurement agents were able to operate openly in China.

Continues here