Prickly questions loom for Taipei over ties with North Korea
Should North Korean companies operating in Taiwan be raising questions in the Trump administration?
US President Donald Trump showed an interest in Taiwan before assuming office by taking a congratulatory phone call on Dec. 2 from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen.
This broke with 37 years of policy and risked enraging mainland China.
Now that Taiwan has officially asked the United States to sell it the latest stealth fighter, the F-35, the Trump administration perhaps should start asking Taipei about companies doing business with North Korea from the island nation.
These questions could turn awkward for Taipei — and for advocates of a pro-Taiwan policy in the White House — because businesses on the island openly do business with Pyongyang. United Nations sanctions bar most trade with North Korea owing to its nuclear weapons program.
First, Taiwan might need to explain why the Korea International Chamber of Commerce (KICC) operates in the country, seemingly as a North Korean trade office, according to company documents.
The KICC website says the organization was established by North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly under a directive from (the now deceased) Kim Jong Il, the supreme leader of DPRK. The current President and Chairman of the KICC Board is Ms.Kerri Man Lin Zhou.
The Taiwan-based KICC reportedly has offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, but what it actually does is unclear. The website cites Zhou as saying it engages in “business activities, but also acts as a facilitator between DPRK and the outside world for important international events.”
When an Asia Times reporter visited the KICC office on Feb. 20 this year, two staff members declined to answer questions about its operations and business with Pyongyang. They also declined to provide the phone numbers or email addresses of the KICC’s managers.
However, what is clear is that the KICC shares an office in Luzhou, near Taipei, with Long-Luck Engineering Enterprises Corp., which according to its website manufactures and exports hydraulic equipment, including high-pressure pumps.
The Long-Luck logo is openly decorated with North Korean flags on signs in the building’s lobby and by the entry to the offices. It’s also reproduced on documents that show the two companies share a post office box, office equipment, and telephone and fax numbers.
The KICC’s articles of incorporation say its parent is an entity in Hong Kong called Korea International Business Organizations Ltd., on Jordan Road.
The director of the Hong Kong entity is Kwi Ja Jo of Dongcheng, Beijing, who has a North Korean passport, according to the documents.
“I didn’t know the North Koreans had an office here,” said William Stanton, who from 2009 to 2012 was director of the American Institute in Taiwan, which represents the United States in the country.
Stanton, who now works as a consultant in Taiwan, said when he was director of the American Institute his South Korean counterpart in Taipei didn’t mention a North Korean office in Taiwan.
“I am pretty sure Washington was unaware or I would have thought it would have become an issue. If nothing else, people would have wondered why.”
Documents obtained by Asia Times indicate at least two people are employed by both North Korea’s KICC and Long-Luck.
One is Jason Jung Feng Lin, who is the KICC’s vice-president and president of Long-Luck. The other is Zhou, who beside heading KICC is chief executive of Long-Luck.
Hong Kong business registration documents indicate that Zhou is a Singaporean citizen, but has a passport issued by the Dominican Republic. Zhou’s name also appears on documents relating to a Hong Kong company, Unicorn Star International Holding Ltd.
It is unclear when the KICC and Long-Luck linked up. The Long-Luck website says the company was established in Taiwan in 1974 and has customers in China, Denmark, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand and US. The website contains no mention of North Korea.
A former KICC executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity said KICC officials had close relationships with the ruling family in North Korea and the North Korean government.
The KICC website shows Zhou in what it says is a meeting in North Korea with Yang Hyong Sop, Vice Chairman of Supreme People’s Assembly, at the Mansudae Assembly Hall on December 14th, 2009.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had no knowledge of the existence of KICC and said it had no further comment when contacted by telephone.
The website of the Taiwan Ministry of Economic Affairs mentions Korea International Business Organization and Zhou, but the ministry also declined to answer questions about KICC operations and its links to Long-Luck.
A UN Security Council 326-page report released on February 17 says North Korea “is flouting sanctions through trade in prohibited goods, with evasion techniques that are increasing in scale, scope and sophistication.”
The report names two companies involved in trade with North Korea from Taiwan — Royal Team Corp. and Jixing Ship Trading Co. — but does not mention the KICC.
Taiwan’s official international status is vague, the island is diplomatically isolated and it plays no part in setting international rules.
That means it’s debatable whether its dealings with North Korea are lawful or not, though Taiwan obeys international rules to avoid being dubbed a rogue state. For example, it doesn’t develop nuclear weapons.
But there are no legal constraints to prevent Taiwan from trading with international pariahs such as North Korea. All the more reason for Trump’s White House to clarify who its friends are actually involved with.