Despite Evidence, China Denies Selling Launcher to N. Korea
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — There is growing evidence China has violated United Nations sanctions against selling arms to North Korea.
One week after the failed launch of a long-range ballistic missile, North Korea unveiled a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) seated on a new 16-wheel transporter erector launcher (TEL) during the April 15 parade in honor of the late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday.
The TEL vehicle appears nearly identical to the WS51200 (WS2600) manufactured by the Hubei Sanjiang Space Wanshan Special Vehicle Co., a subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC), said Richard Fisher, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
On April 15, Fisher sent a letter outlining the similarities between the two vehicles to U.S. Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. Two days later, Turner sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asking for an investigation.
A new North Korean ICBM mated to a Chinese TEL vehicle suggests “such cooperation undermines the administration’s entire policy of investing China with the responsibility of getting tough on North Korea,” Turner wrote.
During April 19 testimony by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta before the House Armed Services Committee, Turner asked if China was assisting North Korea with its missile program. “I’m sure there’s been some help coming from China,” Panetta said.
“I think we’d have to deal with it in another context in terms of the sensitivity of that information. But clearly there’s been assistance along those lines,” he said.
Panetta added there was “no question” that North Korea’s ICBM and nuclear capability “represent a threat to the United States.”
Chinese officials have previously assured the U.S. State Department they do not violate U.N. sanctions restricting the sale of arms to North Korea. China voted in favor of U.N. Security Council resolutions 1718 in 2006 and 1874 in 2009, which placed sanctions on North Korea and demanded an end to its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs.
The 1874 resolution prohibits the sale of “almost all military equipment to North Korea with the exception of small arms, and even that required a notification process,” said Jack Pritchard, a North Korea specialist and president of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington.
Parading the new missile and TEL is an “act of defiance for the regime against U.N. sanctions], and, of course, it is also an act of defiance against the U.S., since its launch would clearly violate the Leap Day agreement with the Obama administration,” said Chuck Downs, author of the book “Over the Line: North Korea’s Negotiating Strategy.”
North Korea reaffirmed its commitment to denuclearization and to implement a moratorium on long range missile launches, nuclear tests and uranium enrichment production.
The announcement was made after the “Leap Day Accord” on Feb. 29 at the conclusion of talks between the U.S. and North Korea in China. However, it violated that accord on April 13 with the failed launch of a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters April 19 that “China has provided repeated assurances that it is complying fully with both Resolution 1718 as well as 1874.”
However, assurances from Beijing do not square with a press release issued by CASIC. The press release, issued Oct. 19, 2010, said the company had secured a 30 million yuan ($4.75 million) export order for the WS51200 to an unidentified country. The unidentified country deposited 12 million yuan for the order and it was the first export order for the WS51200 since the company began promoting export of the WS series. The contract had been in negotiation since 2008.
Chinese media outlets reported April 17 that Pyongyang procured eight WS51200 vehicles from CASIC, and that they were possibly assembled in North Korea.
The North Koreans could have obtained the plans for the design from rogue or corrupt Chinese engineers, said Bruce Bechtol, author of the book “Defiant Failed State: The North Korean Threat to International Security.”
“This is exactly what happened with the Musudan-ri missile,” he said. “Rogue Russian operatives smuggled a complete SSN-6 [R-27] missile into North Korea in 1992 — and the Russian government had nothing to do with it.”
The Musudan-ri intermediate-range ballistic missile is seated in a North Korean six-wheeled MAZ-547A/MAZ-7916 TEL and was unveiled during the October 2010 parade celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Korean Workers’ Party.