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White House to Pressure China Over Missile-Related Exports to North Korea

A mobile launcher is shown carrying a North Korean missile during a military parade in Pyongyang on April 15. The Obama administration said it suspects China provided some components used in producing the vehicle (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan). A mobile launcher is shown carrying a North Korean missile during a military parade in Pyongyang on April 15. The Obama administration said it suspects China provided some components used in producing the vehicle (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan).

The White House suspects a Chinese company provided North Korea with some components of a missile launch platform spotted at a recent military display and hopes the incident will compel Beijing to fully implement international weapon sanctions against Pyongyang , the New York Times reported on Friday (see GSN, April 20).

The recently revealed 16-wheel mobile launcher platform could suggest aspiring nuclear power North Korea now has the ability to quickly relocate long-range ballistic missiles, making them harder to detect and destroy. Analysts have said the vehicle seen in Pyongyang closely resembles a product from a Chinese firm.

An anonymous high-ranking Obama administration official said the export of the frame and other missile carrier-related equipment to the North was an "embarrassment" for the Chinese government.

"We think this is poor Chinese performance in sanctions implementation, and not willful proliferation. The Chinese system is so sprawling and poorly organized that they are not good at enforcing sanctions," the official told the Times.

The White House does not view the equipment export as a direct breach of U.N. Security Council rules that prohibit all weapon sales to North Korea as suspected seller Hubei Sanjiang only supplied a vehicle frame instead of an entire mobile launch platform. The body could have been exported under the belief it would be put to nonmilitary use and was likely sold to a shell company, according to the report.

A representative the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Geng Shuang, insisted Beijing was in compliance with Security Council sanctions targeting North Korea. "We have our own export-control regime, which has been strictly implemented by all agencies and ministries of the Chinese government."

Experts who examined pictures of the mobile launch platform said it looked as if the North had altered the form of the vehicle by putting in place an apparatus for firing a missile as well as some possible electronic equipment.

John Hopkins University issue expert Joel Wit said, "Maybe the Chinese thought they could get away with it by saying they were for agriculture or lumbering purposes."

The episode underlines Beijing's ongoing difficulties with fully implementing international regulations on North Korea. The central government does not have much authority with the firms that do business with Pyongyang, especially those with connections to the Chinese military, according to experts.

"It’s so huge, there’s so much corruption and state-owned companies have lots of autonomy. The Chinese are incapable of being transparent with us on this system because they don’t understand it themselves," former National Security Council official Michael Green said..

Green criticized the Obama White House for relaxing pressure on Beijing on the sanctions implementation issue (Mark Landler, New York Times, April 20).

South Korea has requested Beijing verify whether the missile launch platform is Chinese in origin, an unidentified Foreign Ministry official in Seoul told the Associated Press (Sam Kim, Associated Press/Google News, April 21).

Analysts question whether the mobile launch platform would work properly as the North has a troubled history with its missile hardware, U.S. News & World Report reported. The North is not believed to have achieved full success in any test of a long-range missile.

"It seems unlikely that those missiles were actually functional, especially given the long record of failure in their ballistic missile development," former U.S. Navy officer Jan van Tol said.

The Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative found that the "road-mobile ICBM" North Korea is assumed to be developing would "require more work on staging and solid-fuel technology."

Nevertheless, South Korea, the United States and other allied countries are advised to not totally discount the North Korean threat just because it was unsuccessful in its latest attempt to fire a long-range rocket into space, van Tol said.

"We must not be too contemptuous or amused by the most recent failure, engineers and others can learn a lot from failures, he said, noting, "the U.S. also had a considerable record of failure in the early years of the space program" (U.S. News & World Report, April 20).

On Saturday, ruling Korean Workers Party international affairs chief Kim Yong Il met with Chinese Communist Party International Department head Wang Jiarui in the most senior level contact the two nations have had since the failed rocket launch, Reuters reported.

"Both sides thoroughly exchanged views on developing exchanges and cooperation between the Chinese and North Korean parties, on developments on the Korean Peninsula, and on other international and regional issues of common concern, the Xinhua News Agency reported without touching on the rocket episode (Chris Buckley, Reuters, April 21).

[Editor's Note: The Nuclear Threat Initiative is the sole sponsor of Global Security Newswire, which is published independently by the National Journal Group.]

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