Washington’s Soft Line on Chinese Weapons Sales
On Friday, the New York Times revealed that the Obama administration is planning to relay to Beijing its concerns about the apparent sale by a Chinese enterprise of six missile-transport vehicles to North Korea. The eight-axle TELs (which stands for transporter-erector-launchers) were spotted in a Pyongyang military parade on April 15th, hauling what looked to be a new long-range missile.
An unnamed White House official, speaking to the Times, noted that the Obama administration believes China sold the chassis and other parts for the missile-transport vehicles but that the transfer did not constitute a clear violation of Security Council measures imposed in 2006 and 2009. “We think this is poor Chinese performance in sanctions implementation, and not willful proliferation,”said the official. “The Chinese system is so sprawling and poorly organized that they are not good at enforcing sanctions.”
In one sense, it is right for the Obama administration to be initially cautious, as we do not at this time know exactly how the North Koreans came into possession of the launchers. Yet, on the other hand, it is premature—reckless, even—to immediately come to the conclusion that China merely sold the chassis and that its proliferation has not been “willful.”
In fact, there are many reasons to suspect that Beijing’s proliferation has been with malice aforethought. For one thing, why would North Korea have to buy a chassis from China if it in fact had developed, on its own, a sophisticated missile and the intricate launcher assembly? It makes more sense to believe that Pyongyang bought the whole package, the missile and its associated launcher, from China. And Richard Fisher, of the International Assessment and Strategy Center, points out that China has sold similar missiles and TELs to Pakistan.