China Export Ban Hints at North Korea Nuclear Status: Experts

Global Security Newswire Staff
September 30, 2013

The lengthy list of "dual-use" items that China recently announced it will not export to North Korea provides hints at where Beijing assesses the status of Pyongyang's nuclear-arms development to be, the New York Times reported on Monday.

An early assessment of the 236-page list of regulated materials and components indicates Beijing is looking to constrain particular areas of the North's nuclear weapons work, former U.S. Army intelligence officer Roger Cavazos told the Times. An example is a prohibition on the sale of ceramics required to shield a warhead as it passes back through the planet's atmosphere, he said.

North Korea is understood to not yet have flight tested a warhead reentry vehicle. The longer the international community can delay the day when Pyongyang tests such a device, the longer it will be before the country can be seen as wielding a credible nuclear-tipped ballistic missile.

"The list gives a good insight into what China knows about the missile and bomb development of North Korea," Cavazos said. "From what I can tell, it lays out almost all China knows about North Korea's missile and nuclear program."

Western and Chinese experts said if China's new export rules are fully enacted, they could impede North Korea's nuclear development. Pyongyang imports a number of critical parts from China, which has previously led U.S. officials to say the broader sanctions regime would not be effective absent Beijing's full participation.

The specificity of some of the banned items, including details about their size in millimeters and inches, very likely shows that China's armed forces and nuclear establishment were involved in the drafting of the list, experts said.

Metal alloys required for uranium enrichment are now banned. As Pyongyang's metallurgical abilities are understood to be mediocre, that could have an important impact on the North's capacity to enrich uranium. Also banned from export is red fuming nitric acid, the material that some U.S. specialists say was used to power last December's successful long-range rocket launch, according to Cavazos.

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday met with South Korean President Park Geun-hye at her office in Seoul, according to a Pentagon statement. Hagel and Park discussed steps their two countries are taking to improve their ability to respond to future North Korean provocations, spokesman George Little said.

On Sunday, Hagel said it was too soon to respond to Seoul's petition for a postponement of the planned transfer of wartime authority over South Korean troops, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

In remarks to reporters en route to South Korea, the secretary suggested Washington was carefully considering South Korea's request to delay the command transfer, which is presently slated to take place in late 2015. Seoul is concerned its military is not prepared assume operational control of its troops back from the United States amid concerns about North Korea's growing ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities.