On Friday, June 29, the United Nations Security Council will release a report telling us about efforts by the DPRK to obtain weapons and WMD-related items in violation of UNSC sanctions. That’s interesting because, according to two Japanese press reports which appeared on June 22, this is the first time since 2010 that China–one of the countries fielding experts to a consulting body to the UNSC Sanctions Committee concerning the DPRK–has permitted the UNSC to release these documents.
The two Japanese press accounts assert that people at or near the UNSC have complained that China hasn’t fully cooperated with the expert group’s efforts to monitor the international community’s compliance with sanctions agains the DPRK. I have no idea who the Japanese reporters were talking to, but I can tell you that they certainly didn’t invent that allegation. On more than one occasion over the last three years, after surfacing at Penn Station and hopping a cab over to Murray Hill, I have gotten fairly elaborate thumbnails about this from a number of people who claim to be in the know.
The good news, I guess, is that China is now not inhibiting the UNSC from publishing its report on DPRK sanctions-busting. The bad news is that–if I rely on people I’ve talked to, not the above media accounts–Pyongyang is getting a steady stream of nuclear-related equipment from foreign sources, including Chinese sources. And, yes, that includes goods for the DPRK’s now-official uranium centrifuge enrichment program. North Korean procurement people are working in China, they’re working in Russia, and they’re working in Europe. Hardly a surprise. I’m also not shocked to hear that the DPRK is getting nuclear dual-use equipment and aluminum casing preforms for P-2-type maraging steel centrifuge rotors they’re setting up in Yongbyon. As my readers know, beginning a decade ago the DPRK tried to procure 6061-T6 aluminum tubing for these machines from Europe, but the transaction involved efforts to transship materials to the DPRK via China.
Seen from a broad-brush perspective, people who are tracking this trade offer two fundamentally different explanations for the steady trickle of Chinese goods and materials finding their way to North Korea.
View one is that Chinese export control authorities don’t have the resources and expertise to effectively lock down all materials and equipment, including especially dual-use items, in this vast and far-flung country.
View two is that, for political reasons, China is disinclined to intervene to prevent at least a modicum amount of this trade from taking place. The idea here is that Beijing sees the DPRK as a permanent fixture in the region’s political firmament, and that, if so, there may be benefits for China in thwarting the resolve of others in the Sanctions Committee–in particular Japan, the ROK, and the US–which take the categorical position that sanctions are sanctions.