China has supported nuclear sanctions against North Korea while also helping North Korea evade them.

Chinese intermediaries launder the income from North Korean hackers' cyberattacks, while Chinese ships transport sanctioned North Korean goods to Chinese ports.

Chinese companies assist North Korean workers, from cheap laborers to well-paid IT specialists, in finding jobs abroad. Beijing's art gallery can even boast North Korean artists working 12-hour days in its closely guarded complex, creating paintings depicting idyllic visions of life under communism, each sold for thousands of dollars.

According to international authorities, this is a growing mountain of evidence showing that Beijing is aiding impoverished North Korea in evading a wide range of international sanctions aimed at thwarting Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, according to a review of United Nations reports and court proceedings and interviews with experts by the Associated Press.

"This is staggering," said Aaron Arnold, a former member of the UN commission on North Korea and an expert on sanctions at the Royal United Services Institute, about China's ties to sanctions evasion. "At this point, it's very hard to argue that it's not intentional."

China has had complicated relations with Pyongyang since the Korean War of 1950-53. While China is concerned about a nuclear threat on its doorstep, it does not want its neighbor's government to collapse, say experts. China views North Korea as a buffer against the United States, which maintains a significant military presence in South Korea.

Beijing has long claimed to enforce the sanctions it has supported since North Korea began testing nuclear weapons, and it vehemently rejects any suggestions to the contrary. "China fully and strictly implements (UN Security Council) resolutions," the Chinese ambassador said in a recent letter to the UN, adding that his country has "borne great losses" in doing so.

But in recent years, Beijing has sought to weaken these very sanctions and last year vetoed new restrictions on Pyongyang after it conducted a nuclear test.

This summer, a senior Chinese Communist Party official provided a vivid example of China's ambivalence toward sanctions by standing and applauding alongside North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade in Pyongyang. Trucks carrying missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons and other weapons that the regime should not have passed by the two men.

Russia's defense minister joined them, apparently as part of Moscow's efforts to strengthen ties with North Korea while also pushing for an invasion of Ukraine. The United States accused North Korea of supplying artillery shells and missiles to Russia, and new evidence suggests that Hamas militants likely fired North Korean weapons during an attack on Israel on October 7.

But while Russia and several other countries are accused of aiding North Korea in evading sanctions, according to court records and international reports, none of them have achieved as much success as China.

"China violates sanctions against North Korea that it voted for and claims won't work because it's afraid they'll work. And, furthermore, it claims it's not violating them," said Joshua Stanton, a human rights advocate and attorney who helped draft US sanctions against North Korea.

An AP review found that most individuals included in the US government's sanctions list against North Korea in recent years have ties to China. Many of them are North Koreans working for alleged Chinese front companies, while others are Chinese citizens who, according to US authorities, launder money or procure materials for North Korean weapons.

In addition to sanctions, criminal prosecutions in the United States against individuals and entities assisting the North Korean regime are often linked to China.

This is especially true in cases involving experienced North Korean hackers who experts believe have stolen over $3 billion in digital currency in recent years. This unexpected windfall coincided with the rapid growth of the country's missile and weapons program.

In an indictment earlier this year, a Chinese intermediary was accused of helping launder cryptocurrency stolen by top hackers of the regime into US dollars. A similar case was filed in 2020, in which two Chinese brokers were charged with laundering over $100 million in digital currency stolen by North Korea.

Such "over-the-counter" brokers allow North Korean hackers to bypass "know your customer" rules that regulate the activities of banks and other financial exchanges.

As records show, North Korea is heavily reliant on China's financial system and Chinese companies for obtaining prohibited technologies and goods, as well as acquiring US dollars and gaining access to the global financial system.