As the UN launches an investigation into the possibility that China broke international sanctions against North Korea by providing it with banned technology, the global community should think again about the role Beijing has played as a negotiator in disarmament talks with Pyongyang over the years.
Beijing denies it provided North Korea with the 16-wheel transporter- erector- launcher (TEL) vehicle, pictured at a military parade on April 15, that made Beijing, rather than Pyongyang, the main focus of the international community this week. Providing a TEL — a vehicle used to transport and launch ballistic missiles — to North Korea would be in breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1874, adopted in 2009, which prohibits the supply to North Korea of “any arms or related materiel, or providing financial transactions, technical training, services or assistance related to such arms.”
Military experts who analyzed the images claim the TEL seen at the parade bore strikingly similar characteristics to a TEL design by the 9th Academy of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASIC).
North Korea probably does not have the industrial capability to design such a vehicle on its own. After all, far more advanced countries, including Taiwan, have struggled for years to develop similar systems, and their efforts have often resulted in failure.
Aside from CASIC directly providing North Korea with the TEL, other possible explanations include design theft by Pyongyang, assistance by Chinese technicians or the acquisition of the vehicle under the pretext of non-military use. Pyongyang could also have obtained the TEL via a third country, perhaps Iran or Pakistan, which both have close ties to the Chinese military.
Regardless, Beijing has a lot of explaining to do and we can only hope that UN investigators will be able to do their work despite the expected pressure they will receive not to incriminate China.
This incident did not happen in a vacuum, but rather it is the logical continuation of an environment that has made it possible for Pyongyang to defy the international community as it forges ahead with its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. It is highly unlikely that isolated North Korea could have gone this far without some form of assistance, or at least diplomatic cover. Only one country has been in a position to do so: China.
While, on the surface, Beijing has played a crucial role in facilitating the six-party talks on the North Korean arms program, it has also benefited substantially from the almost perpetual state of crisis that has descended upon the matter. Not only has China been able to insert itself as an indispensable regional power in negotiations, it has also managed to extract various concessions — possibly on Taiwan, among others — in return for its participation, and the spigot of benefits will not be turned off as long as the North Korea crisis remains.
Another advantage to the North Korean question remaining unresolved is that it keeps US, South Korean and Japanese forces bogged down over the Korean Peninsula. Should that issue disappear, the Pacific trio would suddenly find itself with too many resources, with the possibility that those would be redirected to meeting the China challenge, or perhaps even bolstering their ties with Taiwan.
Mutatis mutandis, North Korea could be to China what Vietnam was to the Soviet Union as a proxy to keep its principal strategic adversary distracted.
The North Korea problem probably will not disappear as long as Pyongyang’s nuclear antics serve Beijing’s strategic purposes.
While Beijing does not want to see war on the Korean Peninsula, it also does not want the conflict to be resolved once and for all. Peace, in this case, is simply inconvenient.
In September 2013, the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) quietly released an internal document entitled, “Coursebook on the Military Geography of the Taiwan Strait.” This sensitive, “military-use-only” coursebook explains why it is strategically vital that China “reunify” (annex) Taiwan. It then methodically analyzes various locations of interest to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) war planners. The coursebook highlights one future battlefield in particular: Fulong Beach, in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District, which it describes as “3,000 meters long, flat, and straight,” and located at “the head of Taiwan.” A black and white picture of Fulong’s sandy coastline occupies the
US President Joe Biden’s first news conference last month offered reassuring and concerning insights regarding his administration’s approach to China. Biden did not mention the contentious meeting in Alaska where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan confronted China’s top two foreign policy officials. The Americans implicitly affirmed the administration of former US president Donald Trump’s direct pushback against communist China’s repressive domestic governance and aggressive international behavior. Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) and Chinese Central Foreign Affairs Commission Director Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) had explicitly demanded a return to the policies of
Early last month, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), officially approved the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan. The strategy was supposed to demonstrate that China has a long-term economic vision that would enable it to thrive, despite its geopolitical contest with the US. However, before the ink on the NPC’s stamp could dry, China had already begun sabotaging the plan’s chances of success. The new plan’s centerpiece is the “dual-circulation” strategy, according to which China would aim to foster growth based on domestic demand and technological self-sufficiency. This would not only reduce China’s reliance on external demand; it would also
Interrupting the assimilation of Xinjiang’s Uighur population would result in an unmanageable national security threat to China. Numerous governments and civil society organizations around the world have accused China of massive human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and labeled Beijing’s inhumane and aggressive social re-engineering efforts in the region as “cultural genocide.” Extensive evidence shows that China’s forceful ethnic assimilation policies in Xinjiang are aimed at replacing Uighur ethnic and religious identity with a so-called scientific communist dogma and Han Chinese culture. The total assimilation of Uighurs into the larger “Chinese family” is also Beijing’s official, central purpose of its ethnic policies