China exported small arms ammunition to North Korea in 2012 and 2014, without informing the UN Security Council as required by UN Resolution 1874, NK News has learned.
While current UN sanctions do not cover the transfer or sale of small arms and light weapons (SALW) to North Korea, UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1874 requires “the seller notify the Committee at least five days prior to selling, supplying or transferring small arms or light weapons to the DPRK.”
However neither the 2012 or 2014 exports were accompanied by notifications, leading to what is referred to as a “technical violation” of the North Korean arms embargo.
A source close to the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) confirmed to NK News the Panel’s public reports, saying that “there have never been any such notifications to the committee”, and that no SALW applications had been received.
This year’s export occurred in February and totalled 4500kg of what would appear to be shotgun cartridges. The number is an increase on the 2012 figure, when the DPRK imported 2845kg of the same product. The total value of the export is just under U.S. $80,000.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Mission to the UN declined to comment on the transfer, however China’s 2013 UN report does attempt to build some flexibility into its DPRK exports.
“Under the provisions of the resolution, China will refrain from exporting to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea all arms and related materiel except for small arms and light weapons and their related materiel,” the report reads.
Though the exports themselves are not against sanctions, not notifying the UN Security Council could be potentially embarrassing for China, a permanent council member which has voted on all resolutions relating to North Korea.
“If China is proven to have sold lethal arms and/or ammunition to the DPRK without having provided prior notification of the sale, this would constitute a clear breach of UNSCR 1874,” Andrea Berger, a non-proliferation research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) told NK News.
“The fact that this sale appeared in formal trade data also suggests that the lack of notification was not a result of ignorance of the sale. This would be a worrying example for China to set,” Berger added.
The exports appear under the international Harmonized System (HS) code 93, which covers trade in “arms and ammunition”. Further analysis of the data reveals that the exports were listed as HS code 930621, which various trade databases list as “shotgun cartridges”.
“The Korean People’s Army (KPA) does have some shotguns. They are known to at least have the Russian-made KS-23 shotgun. This is actually considered one of the most powerful shotguns in the world,” NK News military analyst John Grisafi said.
“Shotguns are used in much smaller numbers than rifles, machine guns, etc, by military forces, so the amount of ammo imported makes more sense now,” Grisafi continued.
While North Korea is well known to have ample domestic SALW production capacity, sourcing the ammunition for a small number of shotguns from China would likely be easier than starting a production run in the DPRK.
The appearance of the export in China’s trade data is also slightly surprising, along with tobacco products and “special and uncategorised” trade, China deems HS code 93 a sensitive product category. Whereas with other products it would be possible to see which companies are exporting goods to the DPRK, China publishes no further data on HS93.
THE ARMS EMBARGO
This apparent gap in the DPRK arms embargo is not without precedent. A similar situation exists with the sanctions against Iran, which are generally stricter than those on North Korea.
Under current regulations the transfer of any arms other than SALW would contravene the UN arms embargo. While there is no Security Council definition of SALW in the UN documentation, the most widely accepted international definition specifies that small arms are designed to expel or launch a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of an explosive.
UN sanctions however are generally targeted at larger scale military and nuclear projects, so a ban on the export of small arms would likely have little effect on the KPA.
“The key thing to recall is that arms exports were banned in order to choke off funding for the DPRK’s programmes … I’d imagine that SALW were not seen as militarily significant in the context of the Korean Peninsula, which may be a fair call” the source close to the PoE told NK News.
Featured image: Keith Riley-Whittingham, Creative Commons
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 775 words of this article.