It has been revealed that a Chinese company secretly exported four large special-purpose military vehicles to North Korea last year that are designed to transport and launch ballistic missiles.
This was a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, which prohibit any means to assist North Korea in illegal development of missiles. It also undermines stability in East Asia and harms China's own national interest.
China puts the top priority on stability in the Korean Peninsula. Instability in North Korea could result in a flood of refugees across the border into China.
In the event that the regime of young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un collapses, it could lead to the creation of a unified Korea that is more friendly to the United States than to China.
These concerns were undoubtedly behind China's actions over North Korea's plan to test-launch a ballistic missile in April. Beijing called on Japan, the United States and South Korea to respond to the situation in a cool-headed manner, while urging North Korea to exercise self-restraint.
Since North Korea went ahead with the launch, China has been putting pressure on Pyongyang to refrain from conducting a nuclear test.
China's export of 16-wheeler vehicles only increases the threat of North Korea's missile program, and negates its own efforts to rein in Pyongyang's ambitions.
The transporter-erector-launchers were manufactured by a company affiliated with the Chinese military. They were first spotted carrying new large ballistic missiles during a military parade in Pyongyang.
If North Korea acquires the ability to move missiles around its territory at will and launch them on the spot, it will be far more difficult to monitor the country's missile operations with satellites.
The U.N. Security Council first adopted a resolution to impose sanctions against North Korea after the country's first underground nuclear test in 2006 and passed another resolution to step up sanctions after its second test in 2009.
These resolutions ban the trade of weapons and related equipment with North Korea, including missile transport vehicles and other items related to ballistic missiles.
China claims the exported vehicles are designed to transport logs. But are there so many huge trees in North Korea?
China, a permanent member of the Security Council, voted for the sanctions against North Korea but has been lukewarm about enforcing them.
An expert committee of the Security Council that is monitoring the enforcement of the sanctions has reported many cases of violations in which weapons were exported from North Korea via Dalian, a city in northeastern China.
China is also known to have shipped materials that can be used as rocket propulsion fuel to the North.
No matter how strict other countries may be in enforcing the sanctions, if China, which holds the key to their effectiveness, fails to make serious enforcement efforts, there inevitably will be many loopholes in the sanctions regime.
China's foreign ministry has denied violating the U.N. regulations, saying the country is "firmly opposed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and is in compliance with the resolutions."
Beijing has also claimed that Chinese companies have not exported any item to North Korea in violation of the resolutions. But the claim is hard to believe.
Beijing should make a serious inquiry into the facts and disclose the findings to the Security Council in order to regain the trust of the international community and prevent a recurrence.
Japan and the United States, on the other hand, did nothing but hold unofficial discussions on the matter, even though they obtained evidence of China's illegal export to the North. They apparently decided against taking a stronger action for fear of annoying China, which has been pressing Pyongyang not to carry out a fresh nuclear test.
The response by Tokyo and Washington to the revelation is questionable, to say the least.
If the illegal export is overlooked, the Security Council resolutions will carry no weight. The issue should be discussed seriously at the Security Council.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 14
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