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China Supporting North Korean Missile Effort: Panetta

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta appears before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday. Panetta told the panel that China has supported North Korea's missile efforts (AP Photo/Scott Applewhite). U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta appears before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday. Panetta told the panel that China has supported North Korea's missile efforts (AP Photo/Scott Applewhite).

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday told House lawmakers that China has given some support to ally North Korea's missile development efforts, Reuters reported (see GSN, April 19).

"I'm sure there's been some help coming from China. I don't know, you know, the exact extent of that," Panetta testified before the House Armed Services Committee.

The latest sign of seeming Chinese support for Pyongyang's missile program was a mobile launcher platform seen carrying what appeared to be a new North Korean missile during a military parade. International experts said the 16-wheel vehicle shares a number of similarities with a transporter-erector-launcher developed by a Chinese firm. All nations are barred under U.N. Security Council resolutions from doing business with North Korea's missile initiative.

Panetta would not go into detail on the exact nature of support China is suspected of providing to North Korea's missile program due "to the sensitivity of that information."

"But clearly there's been assistance along these lines," Panetta said.

He said there was "no question" that Pyongyang's attempts to field a credible nuclear weapon and long-range ballistic missiles were a danger to the United States. "For that reason we take North Korea and their provocative actions very seriously" (Missy Ryan, Reuters/Yahoo!News, April 19).

Pentagon officials have previously testified that North Korea is developing road-mobile ICBMs (see GSN, March 8). Though last Friday's failed long-range rocket launch indicated Pyongyang has a ways to go before it wields missiles capable of hitting the mainland United States, the display of the launch platform could mean the North is advancing efforts to develop missiles that could swiftly be shifted between locations, making them more difficult to detect and attack.

Panetta said "there is growing concern about, you know, the mobile capabilities that were on display" at Sunday's parade, the Yonhap News Agency reported. 

Were North Korea to "have a mobile capability" for ICBMs, the threat represented by North Korea would likely be raised, he said.

Washington is concerned Pyongyang might seek to rebuild its prestige after the rocket failure by carrying out further missile launches, detonating another nuclear device or attacking South Korea. 

"We're prepared from the Defense Department's point of view to deal with any contingency," Panetta said (Lee Chi-dong, Yonhap News Agency I, April 19).

South Korea has requested that Beijing confirm whether the missile launcher seen at the parade was in fact made in China, Yonhap reported.

"We are asking the Chinese side to verify the claims with regard to the North Korean truck launcher through a diplomatic channel," an unidentified Foreign Ministry official said (Yonhap News Agency II/Korea Times, April 20).

Issue experts believe China is ignoring Security Council prohibitions on North Korea, the Washington Times reported.

The 15-member U.N. body in 2006 and 2009 passed harsh sanctions targeting North Korea's atomic and missile programs and prohibited any kind of weapons dealings with the Stalinist state. However, Pyongyang is seen as having escaped the  full effect of the punitive measures due to China's continued allowance of some sales.

Sanctions "have closed the front door; but as long as China leaves the back door open, they won't work," Council on Foreign Relations Korea expert Scott Snyder said (see GSN, June 2, 2011).

An ex-National Security Council official told the House Committee he does not see much of an effort being made by the Obama administration to coerce China into fully enforcing sanctions against the North.

"I'm aware of no current activity by the U.S. government to ensure that China is enforcing sanctions," Michael Green said (Shaun Waterman, Washington Times, April 19).

State Department spokesman Mark Toner in a Thursday press briefing said the administration accepts Beijing's insistence that it is honoring sanctions against the North, Agence France-Presse reported.

"China has provided repeated assurances that it's complying fully with both Resolution 1718 as well as 1874," he said.

"I think we take them at their word," the spokesman said.

An unidentified U.N. official with ties to the Security Council panel with oversight on North Korean sanctions told Jane's Defense Weekly this week that an affiliated expert committee was probing whether the mobile missile launcher came from China. However, Toner said, "We're not presently aware of any U.N. probe into this matter" (Agence France-Presse I/Google News, April 19).

Meanwhile, there is still a rocket at the facility in North Korea where last week's unsuccessful attempt to place a satellite into orbit took place, elevating suspicions that another launch could be in the works, an anonymous South Korean official told Kyodo News on Friday.

The North transported two Unha 3 rockets to the Dongchang-ri launch site on March 23. The first one broke apart shortly after liftoff last Friday but the other rocket is sill at the facility's assembly area, according to the source (Kyodo News/Mainichi Daily News, April 20).

The North Korean regime announced in a Thursday statement it had finished a probe into the reasons behind the rocket launch failure. The information and lessons learned from the effort would be "a reliable guarantee for greater success in the days ahead," AFP quoted the statement as saying.

"No matter how loudly the U.S. and Japanese reactionaries and their followers may cry and no matter how frantically the Lee Myung-bak group of rats may squeak, the D.P.R.K.'s satellites for peaceful purposes will be put into space one after another," the North said.

None of Pyongyang's previous long-range rocket firings have been successful and analysts believe the most recent launch shows that North Korea has not learned much from its failures. The launches are widely seen as tests of the North's ballistic missile capabilities (Agence France-Presse II/London Telegraph, April 20).

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