- The Washington Times - Friday, December 20, 2002

A congressionally mandated commission will investigate Beijing's sales of nuclear material to North Korea, as China's Foreign Ministry said yesterday that reports of the transfer are groundless.
Roger Robinson, chairman the U.S.-China Security Review Commission, said the panel plans to hold hearings on transfers of Chinese militarily useful goods to North Korea next month.
"There is a burgeoning nuclear crisis unfolding on the Korean Peninsula that demands enhanced export-control vigilance, particularly on the part of Pakistan, China and Russia," Mr. Robinson said in an interview. "The role of China-based suppliers of militarily relevant items to North Korea warrants commission scrutiny."
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao was asked about the transfer to North Korea earlier this month of a specialty chemical used in producing nuclear weapons. The sale was first reported in The Washington Times on Tuesday.
"I myself have also read the report carried by Washington Times," Mr. Liu stated. "The newspaper often publishes ill-intentioned and irresponsible reports and these reports are also groundless. We think this report is not worth comment."
U.S. intelligence officials told The Times that North Korea earlier this month received a shipment of 20 tons of a specialty chemical known as tributyl phosphate, or TBP, from China.
The chemical has both commercial and military applications and U.S. intelligence officials believe the TBP will be used to extract material for nuclear bombs from North Korea's stockpile of spent nuclear-reactor fuel.
Intelligence reports of the TBP purchase stated that the material was sold by a Chinese company in Dalian, a Pacific coast port.
The chemical shipment coincides with a recent announcement by Pyongyang that it will restart its nuclear reactors in Yongbyon, which in the past were used to make one or two plutonium-based nuclear bombs.
The TBP also can be used in the process of creating fuel for uranium-based nuclear weapons, according to arms specialists.
U.S. officials said the TBP transfer has raised new concerns that China is secretly assisting North Korea, while publicly saying it does not want to see nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.
Mr. Robinson said the reported TBP transfer is "a troubling development that fits a pattern of Chinese supply of dual-use and even proscribed items to North Korea."
"It strains credulity to imagine that the Chinese government is in the dark on such shipments," Mr. Robinson said
The China commission is made up of six Republicans and six Democrats and has already investigated Chinese arms proliferation.
Its last report, made public in July, stated: "China provides technology and components for weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems to terrorist-sponsoring states such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Sudan."
The State Department's intelligence bureau stated in written answers to questions posed by the Senate Intelligence Committee that China's record of sales to rogue states has improved in recent years.
"There is still room for improvement, and we expect transfers of [weapons of mass destruction] and missile-related technology to continue," the Bureau of Intelligence and Research stated.
"Many of the firms engaged in proliferation activities are spin-offs from state-owned defense industries, but they may operate without the authorization of the Chinese government."
The report said China's government has been unable to "police producers and vendors adequately."
The TBP sale contradicts what Chinese officials have been saying publicly about nuclear proliferation.
"China has steadfastly pursued a policy of not advocating, encouraging or assisting any other country in developing weapons of mass destruction," Sha Zukang, a Chinese representative to the United Nations, told an arms-control conference in London on Tuesday.
Mr. Sha said China has created a new set of controls aimed at tightening the management of nuclear exports.
China in the past several years has sent North Korea long-range missile technology despite promises to the United States not to transfer such know-how.

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