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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 304 (March 13, 2014)

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

FOREIGN TIPS

U.N. urges checks on N. Korean ships for illegal arms trade

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Ships coming to and from North Korea should be subjected to greater scrutiny to prevent illegal weapons trafficking, a U.N. report said on March 11, noting that the communist country is using shipping to evade U.N. sanctions banning nuclear arms development and trade.

The report follows the interception last July of a 14,000-ton North Korean ship, Chong Chon Gang, in the Panama Canal while en route home from Cuba. The ship was carrying military hardware hidden under bags of sugar in violation of U.N. resolutions prohibiting the transfer of goods related to nuclear arms development and trade.

Concluding its investigation into the case, the U.N.'s North Korea Sanctions Committee said in its annual report that, "The committee draw the attention of member states' authorities and members of the shipping industry to the concealment techniques that were employed in this case.

"The extent of which demonstrates the importance of applying rigorous due diligence to verify the content of cargo originating from or destined to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the validity of documents presented and the identities of all entities and individuals involved."

The report also noted that, "The incident involving the Chong Chon Gang revealed a comprehensive planned strategy to conceal the existence and nature of the cargo."

The Chong Chon Gang ship's crew used code words known only to a limited number of senior personnel to discuss the secret shipping mission and switched off the system providing real-time shipping information, according to the report.

"All the items were spare parts or other items related to Scud ballistic missile systems. In the Panel’s view, they were arms and related materiel whose export and brokering by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is prohibited" by 2006 U.N. resolutions, it said.

The ship was carrying "two disassembled MiG-21 aircraft, 15 engines for MiG-21 aircraft, components for surface-to-air missile systems, ammunition and miscellaneous arms-related materiel," the report said. "This constituted the largest amount of arms and related materiel interdicted to or from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea since 2006."

The U.N. report also raised the possibility of North Korea continuing arms development cooperation with Myanmar as well as arms trading with some African nations such as Ethiopia and Tanzania.

North Korea "has been, and remains, actively engaged in (prohibited) trade in arms and related materiel," the report said, adding that "it is one of the country's most profitable revenue sources."

The report also noted that debris of the Unha-3 rocket that the North fired in December 2012 contained a South Korean-made component.

The U.N. panel identified 14 different types of items from the debris, as recovered by the South Korean Navy, and said one of two synchronous dynamic random access memory (SDRAM) chips was made in South Korea. The other, the report added, was built in the United States.

The panel said the South Korean chip was made between 2003 and 2010 but it was unable to identify the companay "due to insufficient identifiers."

Among other items from the debris, temperature transmitters and pressure transmitters were made in Britain, while electromagnetic interference filters were from China.

The panel said most were "off-the-shelf" items and didn't meet specifications in lists of prohibited items.

"The acquisition of components abroad for its prohibited programs, despite its Juche philosophy of self-reliance, points to the limitations of its own industrial production capabilities," the report further read. "It also shows the ability of (North Korea) to assemble complex systems with globally sourced components."

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No crude import from China to N. Korea in Jan.: report

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- North Korea did not import any crude oil from China in January, marking the first absence of monthly deliveries from China in five months, a Seoul government report showed on March 10 .

It was not immediately clear whether the January absence of crude shipments to North Korea from China was linked to Beijing's growing frustration with Pyongyang over its nuclear program, but it followed the execution of the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last December.

China, North Korea's key ally and economic lifeline, has been in a delicate position because the executed uncle, Jang Song-thaek, was considered a supporter of China-style reforms to revive the North's moribund economy and played an important role in dealing with economic projects with Beijing.

Last year, monthly shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea were absent in the months of February, June and July. However, annual shipments of crude oil to North Korea from China rose 11.2 percent on-year to 578,000 tons in 2013.

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China draws 'red line' on N. Korea, says won't allow chaos

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- China's foreign minister on March 8 drew a "red line" on its wayward neighbor North Korea, declaring that Beijing won't allow "war or instability" on the Korean Peninsula.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi also called for the United States and North Korea to make joint efforts to remove a "stumbling block" to reopening multinational talks on ending the North's nuclear weapons program.

"The Korean Peninsula is right on China's doorstep. We have a red line, that is, we will not allow war or instability on the Korean Peninsula," Wang said at a press conference on the sidelines of China's annual legislative session.

China is North Korea's key ally and economic benefactor, although Beijing has become more frustrated with Pyongyang, which had heightened tensions in the region by conducting nuclear tests and launching missiles.

In February, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held meetings in Beijing with Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping, and told reporters that China was prepared to take further punitive steps against North Korea unless the North denuclearizes itself through dialogue.

China is asking the U.S. and other concerned parties to resume the six-party, denuclearization talks with North Korea, but Washington has insisted that Pyongyang should first demonstrate with action its sincerity about disarming.

The six-party dialogue, which involves the two Koreas, China, the U.S., Japan and Russia, has been suspended since late 2008.

"We need to climb the slope of denuclearization. Only with denuclearization can the Korean Peninsula have genuine and lasting peace," Wang said.

"No matter how long or steep the slope is, we must work persistently without any stop," he said.

Wang pointed out that the biggest "stumbling block" to restarting the six-party talks is "mutual mistrust" between the U.S. and North Korea.

A lack of trust between Washington and Pyongyang has caused "sustained tensions on the peninsula and several disruptions to the six-party talks," Wang added.

Wang repeated China's long-held stance on the six-party talks, saying, "We hope there can be an early resumption of the six-party talks. Some dialogue is better than none, and better early than later."

Commenting on China's strained relations with Japan, Wang said there is "no room" for compromise with Tokyo on issues of history and territory.

While relations between China and Japan have long been uneasy because of their shared history and territorial disputes, ties worsened further after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Dec. 26 visit to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo that honors 14 convicted Class-A war criminals. South Korea also reacted with fury to Abe's visit, the first such visit in seven years by a sitting prime minister.

"On the two issues of principle, history and territory, there is no room for compromise," Wang said.

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China conveys 'concerns' to N. Korea over shells fired near airplane

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- China said on March 7 that it has conveyed its "concerns" to North Korea after the North's recent firing of long-range artillery shells threatened the safety of a Chinese passenger jet that happened to be passing through the affected airspace.

"We have already contacted the DPRK (North Korea) side to express our concerns," China's foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters during a regular press briefing, when asked whether China has lodged a formal protest with North Korea over the March 4 incident.

After firing a series of short-range missiles for days in the past week into the East Sea, North Korea launched a barrage of long-range artillery shells into the general area Tuesday in an apparent show of force against ongoing South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises.

Unaware of the North's military move, a China Southern Airlines Co. airplane, en route from Tokyo to the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang with 220 people on board, flew through the airspace minutes later, according to South Korea's defense ministry.

South Korean officials said the Chinese passenger jet was flying at an altitude of 10 kilometers, while the North Korean shell's peak altitude was 20 kilometers. They said the CZ 628 flight passed through the airspace about five minutes after the shell hit the water.

The South's defense ministry spokesman, Kim Min-seok, criticized the North's firing of artillery shells for causing a "very dangerous situation" for the Chinese airline.

South Korea and the U.S. have also said the North's launches of Scud-class short-range ballistic missiles are a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban Pyongyang from conducting such launches.

Asked whether the Chinese government agrees with the criticism by South Korea and the U.S., Qin replied, "We call on all relevant parties to do more things that are conducive to easing tensions and making joint efforts to safeguard peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

"It serves the overall interests of all relevant parties," Qin said.

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