April 18, 2012 8:12 pm

UN probes claim of China sanctions breach

UN officials are studying images of military equipment paraded by North Korea at the weekend after a tip-off that one of the new missile launchers included significant Chinese technology that could put Beijing in breach of international sanctions against Pyongyang.

The panel of experts that advises the UN Security Council’s sanctions committee, which is charged with monitoring compliance with UN resolutions passed in 2006 and 2009, is studying images of the transporter bearing a large new North Korean missile. The panel was alerted to the images by IHS Jane’s, the military analysts.

In an email seen by the Financial Times, a senior UN official close to the committee states his intention to pass the matter to the expert panel. The secretive panel rarely makes its findings public and has only investigated two similar cases, according to a report leaked last year. South Korean officials are also said to be studying the images.

Past parades and intelligence have revealed Iranian involvement in North Korea’s big weapons programmes but not that of China, which maintains it adheres to the sanctions regime. China is also integral to the diplomatic dialogue between Pyongyang, Washington, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Marcus Noland, deputy director at the Petersen Institute for International Economics and an expert on North Korea, said China would lose its veil of “honest broker” if Beijing was found to be passing on military equipment or knowhow to North Korea, in violation of resolutions it says it supports.

“This would be really big, it really changes things. If China is seen to be violating Security Council sanctions by helping to militarise North Korea it puts China in a different light and changes the diplomatic relations between it and South Korea, Japan and the US,” he said.

”It would also heat up the US presidential election with [the Republican candidate Mitt] Romney going after [President Barack] Obama for being weak on China.”

The vehicle under examination is a transporter erector launcher, or TEL, which can carry, elevate to launch position and fire a missile. Some – though not all – analysts believe its main modifications are based on a design from the Ninth Academy of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, also known as the WoSang truck factory, which produces a series of TELs used to deploy short and medium-range ballistic missiles.

If confirmed, China’s involvement could breach UN Security Council resolution 1874, which prohibits the supply to North Korea of “any arms or related material, or providing financial transactions, technical training, services, or assistance related to such arms”.

However, the UN panel would have to show that the technology was passed to North Korea after the sanctions on big military equipment came into force in 2006. That could prove difficult unless the US, which has the world’s most sophisticated analysis capabilities, saw it in its interest to take up the issue.

Though the UN’s sanction’s committee is made up of the members of the Security Council, which include the US and UK, neither the Pentagon nor the UK’s Ministry of Defence were willing to confirm their involvement.

Additional reporting by Christian Oliver in Seoul

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