South Korea is asking the Chinese government whether it provided North Korea with the technology for a large missile carrier prominently displayed during the North's April 15 military parade celebrating the centennial of its founder, Kim Il Sung.
Defense analysts say the large vehicle in question, used for transporting and preparing ballistic missiles and known as a transporter erector launcher, may have originated in China. The North Korean TEL was displayed during the parade carrying a new ballistic missile.
The United States will continue to work with the international community, including China, to enforce sanctions against North Korea's ballistic missile program and nuclear program, White House spokesman Jay Carney said. We've raised the allegations with the Chinese government ... as part of our ongoing close consultations on North Korea.
Ted Parsons, an analyst at IHS Janes, a transport and defense research organization, noted that the North Korean vehicle shared features with a Chinese vehicle, along with the same windscreen design, the same four windscreen wiper configuration, the same door and handle design, a very similar grill area, almost the same front bumper lighting configuration, and the same design for the cabin steps.
Although the vehicle's technology would not have been used for missile development, selling it intentionally to North Korea would still be considered a breach of a 2009 U.N. Security Council resolution which banned the supply of arms and related material to the country.
Last Thursday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded by stating that China opposes the spread of weapons of mass destruction and carriers for such weapons.
The vehicle in question, a massive 16-wheel, 122-metric ton transport truck, may have originated from Hubei Sanjiang Space Wanshan Special Vehicle Co Ltd., known in China as the 9th Academy of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp.(CASIC). CASIC is one of China's pre-eminent state-owned enterprises, and builds missiles and aerospace electronics. Wanshan is a subsidary that provides heavy vehicles, many used by the military to transport missiles.
The Asia Times, a Hong Kong-based newspaper, reported that in a surprising twist of events, U.S. and German technologies may have found their way into North Korea along with the Chinese vehicle. CASIC reportedly sold the vehicle in October 2010 for 30 million yuan, or $4.8 million, to an undisclosed country.
The diesel engine used in the vehicle comes from Cummins Inc., a U.S. company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The automatic transmission was supplied by Germany's ZF Friedrichshafen, a leading international automotive supplier.
Even if, as the White House believes, only the chassis for the vehicle had been sold to North Korea, that would mean Chinese, U.S., and German technology may now be helping North Korea to transport one of its most sophisticated weapons.
The Mainichi Shimbun, a major Japanese newspaper, reported on April 16 that CASIC may have transferred four of the trucks, called the WS-51200 in China, aboard a Cambodian-registered ship to North Korea last August.
If Wanshan sold the vehicle believing it would be used for civilian purposes, this would not amount to an intentional violation of U.N. sanctions. But observers would wonder, what possible civilian applications does a Chinese space program contractor think its heavy vehicles would be used for in North Korea?
Nevertheless, pressure on China to limit all forms of assistance to North Korea is increasing, especially as the region and the U.S. remain concerned about a third nuclear test and future missiles tests from the North.
Washington suspects that Hubei Sanjiang did not sell North Korea an entire vehicle and that it believed the components were for civilian purposes, suggesting it was not an intentional violation of a prohibition of military-related sales to Pyongyang, a U.S. official told Reuters.
The official, who confirmed details on condition of anonymity, also said the firm likely sold the parts to a front company that was used to mask the buyer's true identity.
Last Friday, the United States questioned China on whether it was providing Pyongyang with assistance for its missile development.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta answered questions about whether North Korea's missile development was benefiting from trade and technology exchange with China, stating, I'm sure there's been some help coming from China, but added I don't know, you know, the exact extent of that.