A senior U.S. lawmaker has called on the State Department and the head of U.S. intelligence to confirm whether there is any truth to recent indications that Chinese firms might have illegally supported North Korea's efforts to develop ICBMs, Foreign Policy reported on Tuesday (see GSN, April 17).
At a Sunday military parade in Pyongyang, the North displayed for the first time a large new missile. International analysts, however, were more intrigued by the 16-wheel carrier vehicle that transported the missile, noting that nothing of its size had been seen before in North Korea and that it shared many similarities with mobile launch vehicles developed by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp.
Companies are forbidden under U.N. Security Council resolutions from exporting products intended for North Korea's missile development program.
"Whether this missile is the new road mobile intercontinental missile (ICBM) the administration has been warning about is, as yet, unclear based on these public reports," Representative Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said in the letter to National Intelligence Director James Clapper and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "Of deeper concern, however, are allegations that the missile, unveiled at the recent military parade in Pyongyang, is based on Chinese technology, in violation of international obligations and a threat to the national security interest of the United States."
The Ohio Republican noted in the letter, which was acquired by Foreign Policy, that missile systems analyst Richard Fisher had described the mobile launch vehicle as "very likely" a Chinese-based model and that there was a "possibility" it was built in China and then exported to the North.
Turner asked that Clapper and Clinton inform Congress on whether the Obama administration has any proof that Chinese firms or the Chinese government are aiding North Korea's development of mobile launch vehicles for long-range missiles. The lawmaker is also seeking information on whether the White House has raised the issue with Beijing and whether the government has any plans to blacklist Chinese companies for doing business with the North's missile initiative.
"The possibility of such cooperation undermines the administration's entire policy of investing China with the responsibility of getting tough on North Korea," Turner said (Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy, April 17).
Analyst Ted Parsons at Jane's Defense Weekly detected a number of corresponding points between the North Korean mobile launcher and versions in China, the New York Times reported: "The same windscreen design, the same four windscreen wiper configuration, the same door and handle design, a very similar grill area. Almost the same front bumper lighting configuration, and the same design for cabin steps."
Were a Chinese maker to have been supplied the technology to Pyongyang, it would have necessitated "approval from the highest levels of the Chinese government and the People's Liberation Army," according to Parsons.
James Hardy, also with Jane's Defense Weekly, said if the allegations are true, Beijing would have violated the 2009 U.N. Security Council resolution that prohibits nations from engaging in any type of business with North Korea's weapons programs (Choe Sang-hun, New York Times, April 17).
The Obama administration is studying whether to heighten national penalties targeting North Korea as punishment for its Friday launch of a long-range rocket, which embarrassingly broke up not long after liftoff, the Korea Herald reported. Washington and other governments believe the launch was intended to mask testing of the North's ballistic missile capabilities.
"We're always looking at ways to strengthen our sanctions regime, whether its bilateral or multilateral through the U.N., especially in light of North Korea's actions," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said to journalists.
The U.N. Security Council on Monday issued a presidential statement that strongly condemned the rocket launch and called for the council panel with oversight on sanctions against Pyongyang to study whether more North Korean individuals and companies should be added to a list of blackballed entities.
Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security academic Yun Duk-min predicted Washington would impose unilateral economic penalties against the North.
"For now, the U.S. will find it difficult to engage with the North, even though Pyongyang will claim that the rocket launch was for a satellite," he said in an interview with the Herald. "It seems that additional financial sanctions will be most effective."
New U.S. penalties could be like those ordered against Banco Delta Asia five years ago. The Macau-based financial institution was charged with cleansing funds on behalf of Pyongyang.
"The U.N. sanctions sound quite loud but they are barely effective," according to Yun. "What really matters is bilateral sanctions by individual member countries."
So long as Pyongyang continues to flout Security Council rulings, there can be no chance of diplomacy, Toner said. "As long as they continue to do so, the door for further engagement will remain shut and they'll remain under sanctions" (Kim Yoon-mi, Korea Herald, April 17).
The latest failure of a North Korean rocket follows launches in 1998, 2006 and 2009 that did not go as planned.
"Our experience has been you need a lot of testing and flight testing in order to validate and have reliance in the capability," the Associated Press quoted Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, as saying Wednesday during a hearing on Capitol Hill. "They do not, and it's been evident every time they test. And their progress has not been made apparent in this latest flight test" (Donna Cassata, Associated Press/Star Tribune, April 18).
A senior U.S. lawmaker has called on the State Department and the head of U.S. intelligence to confirm whether there is any truth to recent indications that Chinese firms might have illegally supported North Korea's efforts to develop ICBMs, Foreign Policy reported on Tuesday.