The US believes a Chinese firm sold North Korea components for a missile transporter showcased in a recent military parade and will press Beijing to tighten enforcement of a UN ban on such military sales, a US official said on Saturday.
US President Barack Obama’s administration suspects the Chinese manufacturer sold the chassis — not the entire vehicle — and may have believed it was for civilian purposes, which means it would not be an intentional violation of UN sanctions, the senior official said.
However, such a sale — coming to light amid tensions over a failed North Korean rocket launch earlier this month — raises concerns in Washington on whether China is making enough of an effort to abide by the prohibition on weapons sales to Pyongyang.
The New York Times first reported US findings about the origin of parts of the transporter launcher system — essentially a large truck on top of which a missile is mounted — displayed in a parade in Pyongyang on April 15.
The newspaper said the administration suspected the Chinese manufacturer involved in the transaction was Hubei Sanjiang Space Wanshan Special Vehicle Co. The official, who confirmed details of the administration’s thinking on the matter, said the firm likely sold the part to a front company that was used to mask the buyer’s true identity.
Beijing, the North’s only major ally, has denied it has broken any rules, although a modern, eight-axle missile transporter spotted in the military parade to celebrate the founder of North Korea was said by some Western military experts to be of Chinese design and possibly origin.
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told US lawmakers on Thursday that China has provided some assistance to North Korea’s missile program, but he said he did not know the “exact extent of that.”
The White House plans to convey its concerns to China and use the incident to ratchet up pressure on Beijing to tighten enforcement of international sanctions on North Korea, the US official said. It was unclear, however, exactly how such a complaint would be lodged.
Under UN Security Council resolutions from 2006 and 2009, states including China are banned from helping North Korea with its ballistic missile program, its nuclear activities as well as supplying heavy weapons.
Pyongyang has said it was ready to retaliate in the face of widespread condemnation of its failed rocket launch, increasing the likelihood it will go ahead with a third nuclear test.
After the April 13th launch, which the US said was a disguised long-range missile test, the Obama administration responded by suspending a food aid deal with North Korea. Pyongyang insists the launch was meant to put a satellite into orbit.
Obama had pressed Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) at a global nuclear security summit in Seoul last month to use its influence to get Pyongyang to cancel the launch. However, administration officials had doubted Beijing would act forcefully enough.
China has called for “dialogue and communication” as tensions with North Korea mount and reiterated its long-standing call for a return to regional denuclearization talks that have been stalled for years.
Panetta was asked during testimony before the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee whether China had been supporting North Korea’s missile program through “trade and technology exchanges.”