As the US ratchets up pressure on China to do more to help rein in North Korea, a UN report shows how Pyongyang uses technology smugglers and financial institutions to develop missiles and nuclear weapons. China figures prominently in the report.
UN members have imposed an array of trade sanctions on North Korea after it violated UN Security Council rulings to halt its testing of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.
However, an eight-member UN panel said North Korea is intensifying such tests and that UN member states are not doing enough to enforce the sanctions.
The failure to enforce sanctions is due to a lack of political will by member states, according to the report.
North Korea “is flouting sanctions through trade in prohibited goods, with evasion techniques that are increasing in scale, scope and sophistication,” the panel’s report dated Feb. 28 says.
The report cites Chinese components and European parts acquired through China that were recovered from the debris of a North Korean missile launch. They included what the report described as an electromagnetic interference filter for a camera, pressure transmitters, and ball bearings traced to Russia.
While the report did not say what function the transmitters and filter performed, the transmitters were manufactured in China and sold to a Beijing-based company that then sold them to Beijing Xinjianteng Century Technical Technology.
The company did not provide the identity of the North Korean buyer, the report said.
The debris was acquired from the February 2016 test of North Korea’s Unha-3 space launch vehicle that was developed from the Taepodong-2 long-range missile.
“That case demonstrates the continuing critical importance of high-end, foreign-sourced components in manufacturing the Unha-3, and the ability of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to diversify its procurement channels, even for the same components,” the report said.
In another case, the UN found that North Korea set up a front company in Malaysia called Glocom that was used to produce military communications gear.
“Suppliers were mostly located in China (in particular in Hong Kong) and many of them were selling widely available electronic products,” the report said. North Korea “procured relatively inexpensive components for the purpose of assembling and selling very expensive tactical military radio communications materiel.”
Glocom was further identified as part of North Korea’s Pan Systems Pyongyang Branch that is connected to a Singaporean company named Pan Systems Pte Ltd (Pan Systems Singapore).
“Financial aspects of the operations of Pan Systems Pyongyang showed that the network utilized bank accounts, front companies and agents, mostly located in China and Malaysia, to procure components and sell completed systems,” the report said.
The panel urged the Security Council to designate Singapore-linked Pan Systems as violating UN sanctions on North Korea.
The same UN panel also said a Chinese company known as Wanshan Special Vehicle supplied North Korea with chassis frames for what it said were vehicles for hauling lumber. They have since been converted into launchers for the KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile that was paraded in Pyongyang recently.
The KN-08, a system that has not yet been flight tested by the North Koreans, is believed by U.S. intelligence to be the basis for the new ICBM. North Korea conducted an engine test in April 2016 of what it called an ICBM booster that used a cluster of KN-08 engines, according to the UN report.
A major concern for the United States and its regional allies is North Korea’s progress on building both nuclear warheads small enough to be fitted on a missile, and missiles capable of ranging thousands of miles.
“Multiple administrations have tried to deal with the threat of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of putting a nuclear warhead into the United States, and we are simply closer now than we have ever been at any time in North Korea’s history,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in recent public remarks.
The United States has recently given credit to China for helping rein in North Korea, noting that a sixth underground nuclear tests by Pyongyang appears to have been averted, possibly as a result of pressure from Beijing.
But a senior U.S. official said a recent policy review by the White House is expected to produce secondary sanctions that will target Chinese companies, like those identified by the UN, to cut off North Korea’s covert supplier networks.
Additionally, the United States could impose tougher sanctions on banks in China used by North Korea to facilitate its covert arms trade.
The UN report states that behind North Korea’s illicit procurement activities is its continued access to the international banking system.
“Despite strengthened financial sanctions in 2016, the country’s networks are adapting by using greater ingenuity in accessing formal banking channels, as well as bulk cash and gold transfers,” according to the report.