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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Claims in Indian media that Pakistan is still involved in nuclear cooperation with North Korea, despite ratcheting sanctions following its four nuclear tests, have been impossible to prove, a recent study by a British research organization shows.
The study, which looked into Indian reports alleging Pakistani authorities sold Chinese-made nuclear materials to North Korea, used a variety of open source data sources and shipping records, but was unable to confirm the claims.
“In the current case, the combination of relatively opaque nuclear bureaucracies and various commercial entities in South-East China make it a particular challenge to prove or disprove the allegations made in the Indian press,” said Dr. Stephen Blancke, a researcher at Kings College London’s Project Alpha organization.
Those difficulties, Blancke added, were sharpened by the “the opacity of North Korean operations, and the difficulty in tracking trade to the DPRK”.
ELEPHANT IN ROOM
The timing of the Indian media releases, described by Blancke as the “elephant in the room,” were important to consider when analyzing the claims.
“The reports arrived on the eve of the June plenary meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and appear designed to embarrass Pakistan – and more important, Pakistan’s strategic benefactor, China,” he said.
Difficulties between Pakistan and India, who have long had a troublesome relationship, were particularly noticeable at the 26th Plenary Meeting of the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), held in the capital city of South Korea from 20 to 24 June.
At the event, the issue as to whether the NSG would take up a membership request from both Pakistan and India rose to the surface before the closed-door nuke-related meeting kicked off. Both states are currently outside of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, being quasi-recognized nuclear weapons states.
Blancke said the NSG plenary was the “underlying strategic issue” that had “most likely driven the release” of the Indian claims, at “a key moment in international export control diplomacy.”
JOINING THE DOTS
Blancke used shipping records obtained by Project Alpha to verify Indian allegations that a Chinese company – Beijing Suntech Technology Co Ltd – is likely a trading company that supplies furnaces and provided ‘dual-use goods’ to Pakistani entities, including those involved in ‘Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.’
Such dual-use goods can be used in the nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear weapon production, and other strategic applications, as well as having utility in civil industries.
But “whether any of this equipment has then been diverted to the DPRK is unknown,” Blancke concluded of his analysis of Pakistani shipping records.
Blancke also investigated a June 24 report from the Daily Mail India, alleging the transportation of nuclear missile materials from Pakistan to North Korea by sea, using cargo ships on unspecified routes.
But data on the SeaRates.com website showed that “the last regular sea cargo route between Pakistan and North Korea was in 2010,” though Blancke said at least one company still offered shipping services between the two countries.
However, Blancke said ship tracking data was not sufficient to prove sanctioned nuclear trade between the two countries. “Besides the technical problems to track a vessel, North Korean vessels are re-named, or they ship under a foreign flag,” Blancke added.
Reports have long swirled that Pakistan contributed towards North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.