Lights are switched on along the Friendship and Broken bridges that link the North Korean town of Sinuiju and Dandong in China's Liaoning province. Photo: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun is reporting that Pyongyang’s recent string of successful missile launches is largely due to a Chinese firm that smuggled crucial tungsten and aluminum alloys to a North Korean company in April.

The Japanese newspaper quotes a “source with deep insights into trade between North Korea and China” as saying that a Chinese private-sector company smuggled the materials, including high-grade tungsten and aluminum alloy, to North Korea’s central science, technology and trade company.

The tungsten was coveted by North Korean rocket scientists due to its hardness and penetrating ability. They also needed high-grade aluminum alloys to make their missiles stronger and lighter.

Asahi says the unnamed Chinese firm falsified documents and said the materials being sent were tools for expressway construction. The materials were then shipped to North Korea.

It isn’t clear if China’s government was aware of the sale, though the source said:  “It is possible that Chinese government officials turned a blind eye to the transaction.”

The Asahi report dovetails with other stories in the international press which say Chinese companies have been providing critical technology and parts to North Korea’s missile program.

The source also contends that North Korean hackers began invading the databases of US, Japanese and South Korean defense firms in the late 1990s to steal secrets.

In one case about five years ago, the hackers are said to have gained sensitive data related to US global positioning or GPS systems. The source says this is why there was “a sudden improvement” in North Korea’s inertial navigation equipment that ensures missiles follow a predetermined trajectory.

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