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China's acquiescence to international condemnation of North Korea for its recent rocket launch has been lauded, but Chinese leadership seemed to make it clear yesterday that North Korea could still count on its closest ally.
At a meeting in Beijing with a top official from North Korea's Workers' Party, Chinese President Hu Jintao reiterated his interest in maintaining close ties between the two countries. "We will carry on this tradition... boost strategic communication and coordination on key international issues and work for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula," state television quoted him as saying, according to the BBC.
The day before, while speaking with Kim Yong-il, the Korean Workers' Party director of international affairs, Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo called the alliance between the two countries a "precious treasure" and said China wanted to take their "friendly cooperation to new heights," according to Reuters. Mr. Dai also said that he expected North Korea under Kim Jong-un to "constantly score new successes in building a strong and prosperous country."
Because of their close ties, China is considered the country with the most sway in North Korea, and it has made concerted calls for calm on the Korean Peninsula, but to little noticeable effect. Yesterday North Korea said it would "soon" take "unprecedented" action against the South Korean government and "reduce its target to ashes." It called for the death of the South Korean president at a rally last week, BBC reports.
But there is also concern in the international community, based on evidence that a Chinese company sold North Korea hardware used to transport missiles, that China is lax in its enforcement of sanctions intended to prevent North Korea from obtaining military and nuclear weapon equipment, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Videos from a recent North Korean military parade show missiles being transported on trucks built with what the US believes were some critical Chinese-made parts, such as a chassis, from the company Hubei Sanjiang. According to WSJ, the Obama administration does not believe the sale was made with permission from Beijing, but the US is concerned that China is unable to fully enforce the United Nations sanctions because of the large number of Chinese companies producing equipment that has both civilian and military uses.
The vehicle carrying the chassis raises concerns because its use implies that North Korea has "made progress" producing long-range ballistic missiles that can be transported – an outcome the US has long fretted about, because mobile weapons will be harder to deter, according to The New York Times.
China denied that any of its companies are in violation of the sanctions.
“We think this is poor Chinese performance in sanctions implementation, and not willful proliferation,” a US official told The New York Times. “The Chinese system is so sprawling and poorly organized that they are not good at enforcing sanctions.”
However elaborate the efforts to disguise the sale, analysts said, it vividly demonstrates China’s continuing trouble in enforcing sanctions. The Chinese government, experts say, has little control over companies that have dealings with North Korea, particularly those with ties to the People’s Liberation Army of China.
“It’s so huge, there’s so much corruption and state-owned companies have lots of autonomy,” said Michael J. Green, a China policy adviser in the George W. Bush administration. “The Chinese are incapable of being transparent with us on this system because they don’t understand it themselves.”
A US official told Reuters that Washington does not think Hubei Sanjiang intentionally flouted the sanctions either. They believe that a front company may have been involved, and that the company thought the equipment was for civilian use.
He also said that Washington plans to use the issue as leverage to convince China to ratchet up its enforcement of sanctions on Pyongyang.
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