North Korea and UN resolutions
On April 15, two days after North Korea defied international opinion and fired a three-stage rocket, it held a massive military parade in Pyongyang to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il-sung.
Shortly afterward, reports circulated that a new missile launcher paraded in Pyongyang included Chinese technology, suggesting that China may have violated U.N. Security Council resolutions against North Korea.
China did not deny such reports. However, on April 20 the online edition of the People’s Daily, the official Chinese newspaper, carried on its front page the headline: “China not violating UN resolutions on DPRK missile: US.”
The People’s Daily article declared: “The United States believes China fully complies with UN Resolution 1718 and 1874 and did not provide assistance related to missile launching to the DPRK (North Korea), a spokesman of the U.S. Department of State told reporters on Thursday.”
In the briefing, Mark Toner, the deputy spokesman, was asked about reports that “photos of this new missile suggest cooperation and support from China.”
He responded that “China has provided repeated assurances that it is complying fully with both resolution 1718 as well as 1874. We’re not presently aware of any U.N. probe into this matter, so I’d refer you to the U.N.”
The two resolutions were passed in 2006 and 2009 respectively, after North Korea had conducted nuclear weapons tests. At the time, China voted for the resolutions.
So what Toner said was that China had repeatedly promised to abide by the U.N. resolutions and that the U.S. was not aware of any investigation by the Security Council’s sanctions committee, which is charged with monitoring compliance with U.N. resolutions. He did not say explicitly that China was not in violation.
Pressed to say if “China has specifically given assurances on this since the rocket launch” April 13, Toner said: “Not that I’m aware, no. But they have said ― they’ve said in the past that they’ve been compliant with 1874 and 1718. I’m not aware that they’ve given any direct response to these reports.”
Then came this exchange:
Question: Sure. And the U.S. is confident of that? The U.S. can take China at its word that there isn’t that type of cooperation?
Toner: Well, again, I think we take them at their word. There is a U.N. mechanism. There’s a U.N. sanctions committee that exists to look into these allegations.
Question: Sorry, just to make sure, you do believe them?
So the People’s Daily turned a State Department spokesman’s innocuous remarks into an American finding that China was abiding by U.N. resolutions. That, apparently, was China’s way of denying allegations that it is helping North Korea, rather than issuing an official denial of its own.
As it happens, since then there have been reports that the United Nations has indeed launched a probe into whether China has violated resolutions regarding North Korea.
The Financial Times, for example, has reported that “the panel of experts that advises the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions committee, which is charged with monitoring compliance with U.N. resolutions passed in 2006 and 2009, is studying images of the transporter bearing a large new North Korean missile. The panel was alerted to the images by IHS Jane’s, the military analysts.”
According to procedure, the sanctions committee will eventually issue a report of its findings. However, judging from past experience, China may not allow the report to be published.
According to Professor George A. Lopez, who served on the U.N. Panel of Experts for Security Council sanctions on North Korea from October 2010 to July 2011, “the Chinese have worked especially hard to hide and then to discredit the reports of the panel of experts.”
He said that although there is “established transparency practice ― that U.N. panel reports are released on the sanctions committee’s website” the Chinese “blocked release of the panel’s 2011 report, even though the document was leaked and had appeared for months on global websites.”
That report implied that China was a transshipment point in the trade of banned missile technology between North Korea and Iran.
This time, American officials, while believing that North Korea has benefited from Chinese technology, think this is “poor Chinese performance in sanctions implementation and not willful proliferation,” according to The New York Times.
Whatever the real situation, hopefully the sanctions committee will be allowed to do its job and, at the end of the day, the report will be allowed to see the light of day.
Frank Ching is a journalist and commentator based in Hong Kong. E-mail the writer at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1.