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Chinese mark on N. Korean military

Sanctions appear loosely enforced

- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2012

China appears to be flouting U.N. sanctions against North Korea, regional analysts say, as the U.N. Security Council weighs new measures against the Marxist government after its failed rocket launch last week.

The sanctions "have closed the front door; but as long as China leaves the back door open, they won't work," said Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The sanctions, imposed by the Security Council in 2006 and 2009 after North Korean rocket and nuclear weapons tests, ban the export of any major armaments or arms-related technology to the isolated communist regime. The aim, publicly endorsed by China at the time, was to curtail North Korea's progress on developing nuclear and ballistic weapons in violation of international law.

Yet pictures of North Korean missiles on display at the huge military parade over the weekend showed them carried on Chinese-made or -designed transporters, according to missile technology analysts.

A North Korean trading company covered by the sanctions also is openly doing business in China, lawmakers were told this week.

The charges against the Tangun Trading Corp., which the United Nations sanctioned for buying technology for North Korea's defense research and development programs, were made Wednesday at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

A Japanese photojournalist has taken pictures showing Tangun offices open for business in Shenyang, a Chinese town near the North Korean border, Michael Green, a former National Security Council official, told the committee.

No U.S. pressure

The United States has not appeared to be pressuring China to enforce the ban since U.S. officials visited Beijing in 2009 after the United Nations adopted the latest sanctions.

"I'm aware of no current activity by the U.S. government to ensure that China is enforcing the sanctions," he said.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations did not respond to calls and e-mails requesting comment for this article.

Other foreign policy scholars said at the hearing that China is blocking enforcement activity by a special committee that the Security Council set up to monitor the sanctions.

The job of the Chinese official on that committee "is to keep [it] from adopting anything that might be critical of China," Mr. Snyder said.

The Chinese government denies breaking sanctions and insists it enforces the embargo rigorously.

"We strictly abide by and implement all U.N. Security Council resolutions, including the sanctions on North Korea," said Geng Shuang, the spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

Some Chinese enforcement

Robert Shaw, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, in Monterey, Calif., cited some Chinese enforcement of the sanctions.

In 2009, Chinese customs officials intercepted vanadium - a rare metal used in missile casings and covered by the sanctions - hidden in a shipment of fruit headed for North Korea, he said.

"At the operational level, the [Chinese] export licensing and customs officials seem very professional," he said, but it is unclear "whether that [enforcement] activity is a priority at the strategic level for China's leaders."

A former senior intelligence official who testified at the hearing later said he doubted that China is secretly behind the exports.

The North Korean missile program and even more so its nuclear program were "an annoyance to China," said Fred Fleitz, now an analyst with the private-sector Langley Intelligence Group Network.

"I don't think Beijing is encouraging this," he said.

"It's hard to say how much [of China's failure to implement the sanctions] is because it's a very big and hard-to-govern country" and how much it is a result of "some elements of the government having a vested interest because they profit" from the trade either through corruption or through business interests involved in it, he said.

Whatever assistance North Korea is getting for its ballistic weapons program, it does not seem to be working, U.S. officials and missile technology scholars say.

Although North Korea has successfully tested single-stage missiles such as the Scud and the No Dong, all of its multistage rocket tests have failed spectacularly, said Bruce Bennett, an analyst with the Rand Corp., a California think tank with historic ties to the U.S. military.

In 2006, the rocket exploded 42 seconds after liftoff, while still powered by its first stage. In 1998 and 2009, the second or third stage failed to separate, dooming the flight. The same thing happened during a rocket launch last week.

"Staging may be a complication" for the North Koreans, Mr. Bennett said. "It seems to be something they haven't mastered yet."

"Obviously, they failed early in their flight once again," Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, Missile Defense Agency director, said Wednesday.

"Our experience has been you need a lot of testing and flight testing in order to validate and have reliance and capability. They do not, and that's been evident every time they test."

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