Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee today, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta suggested that, while specific intelligence is incomplete, there might be something to rumors and accusations that China provided equipment for North Korea’s ballistic missile program in violation of U.N. sanctions. Media reports about the possibly Chinese-designed and -made mobile missile carrier come in the same week as a provocative — and ultimately failed — attempt by North Korea to launch a large rocket that portends development of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The Washington Times first raised the latest issue on Monday based on photographs from a parade in Pyongyang that appeared to show a mobile missile carrier that closely matched a Chinese design. On Tuesday, Foreign Policy reported that Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asking for more information about the allegations.
Today, Panetta was asked about the equipment by Turner and dodged on specifics. He did note, though, that “there is growing concern about, you know, the mobile capabilities that were on display in the parade recently in North Korea.” While he said the U.S. needed to get better intelligence, he added:
I’m sure there’s been some help coming from China. I don’t know, you know, the exact extent of that. 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.
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If the allegations are true, they would constitute a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 which prohibits arms sales to North Korea. Asked about the report, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said, “China is always against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
The Nelson Report, a widely-read and well-sourced daily newsletter about Asian affairs by foreign affairs analyst Chris Nelson, reported that a source confirmed the truck was of Chinese origin:
Tonight, sources we absolutely rely on have come forward with information the carrier is new and cannot have appeared in [North Korea] without the explicit permission of [China]. As our source comments, with understatement: “The political implications of the appearance of Chinese missile transporters at the 15 April parade in Pyongyang are huge. ”
And the source’s source claims Beijing is fully aware of the implications of what it’s done, and that, the source argues, is why China approved stronger language than it’s ever before accepted, in Monday’s UNSC President’s statement.
Nelson comments that China’s embarrassment and quick accession to the Security Council’s unanimous but non-binding Presidential Statement that included a threat to ratchet up sanctions undermines criticisms of the Obama administration and the U.N. that the statement was all bark and no bite.