By Yasunobu Shirouchi in Beijing
An informed North Korean source and bank officials revealed that four major state-owned Chinese banks had notified North Korean passport holders, including diplomats, through the North Korean embassy and consulates general in China of the suspension of remittance and deposit services and most other transactions, asking them to withdraw all their money by the end of August. It appears that the notice was issued in mid-August, citing an order from the People’s Bank of China (China’s central bank).
The U.S. has been asking China to exercise its influence on North Korea to make it stop developing nuclear weapons, since the DPRK is economically dependent on China. It is believed that China has now taken its own measures, which are not based on UN Security Council resolutions, in light of growing pressure from the U.S.
Notices were issued by the Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the China Construction Bank, and the Agricultural Bank of China to DPRK government officials stationed in China, trade officials, and all other North Korean passport holders.
The Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China reportedly also took the same measures for Iranian nationals suspected of being involved with the development of nuclear arms.
The four banks suspended remittances to North Korea in the spring of 2016. The Bank of China has also banned North Koreans from opening new accounts since 2014. It has been asking account holders to withdraw all their money since late 2016, setting the end of August as the deadline.
Bank officials told Tokyo Shimbun that the other three banks are also taking the same measures. However, the accounts are not being frozen completely and it is still possible to withdraw cash at present.
In late June, the U.S. government sanctioned Dandong Bank, a local bank in China, for being involved with money laundering and other illegal banking operations. The steps taken by the state-owned banks may be aimed at avoiding financial sanctions by the U.S.