BANGKOK: Thailand has drastically reduced trade with North Korea amid mounting international pressure to isolate the pariah state, the government said Thursday, as a senior US envoy arrived for talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
The kingdom is one of several Southeast Asian countries to host a North Korean embassy, and once enjoyed valuable economic ties with the reclusive regime.
But the commerce ministry said Thursday trade with Pyongyang had “plunged” and would soon be nonexistent as Thailand complies with UN resolutions to cut off North Korea in response to its increasingly powerful missile and nuclear tests.
During the first nine months of 2017 bilateral trade with North Korea amounted to $1.6 million, a 94 percent decrease from the same period in 2016, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“It’s expected that by late 2017 there will be no export or import of goods between Thailand and North Korea,” said Pimchanok Vonkorpon, director of the Thai Commerce Ministry’s Trade Policy and Strategy Office.
The announcement came as US Special Envoy for North Korea policy Joseph Yun began talks on Thursday with senior Thai officials, including the National Security Council chief.
Yun’s visit is part of a December 11-15 trip to Asia—including a stop in Japan—”to discuss ways to strengthen the pressure campaign following the DPRK’s latest ballistic missile test,” the US State Department said, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
The US embassy in Bangkok declined to provide more details on Yun’s schedule in the kingdom.
The US remains frustrated that international sanctions on North Korea have not resulted in Pyongyang halting its nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests.
But sanctions against North Korea have started to bite.
The UN Security Council ordered countries to stop providing guest work permits to North Koreans after Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test in September.
The ban impacts an estimated 100,000 North Koreans who send some $500 million in wages back to the authoritarian regime in Pyongyang, led by Kim Jong-Un.
The UN and the US have called on Southeast Asian leaders to do more to sever ties with North Korea.
In August, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stopped in Bangkok to pressure the government to crack down on North Korean shell companies that use the Thai capital as a trading hub.
But Washington has focused its efforts on Beijing, urging Pyongyang’s longtime ally and economic lifeline to rein in Kim and his nuclear program.
China has accepted a series of UN sanctions against Pyongyang but so far resisted calls to shut a crude oil pipeline considered crucial to North Korea’s economy.
US President Donald Trump’s administration has swung back-and-forth between contradicting approaches to the crisis on the Korean peninsula, with Tillerson adopting a more diplomatic attitude amid fiery rhetoric from the White House.
On Wednesday, the State Department said that the US position on North Korea has not changed despite Tillerson’s comments that he would be willing to talk to the regime without preconditions. AFP