After two nuclear tests last year and a new ballistic missile launch on Feb. 12, North Korea has invited fresh denunciation and economic sanctions from the international community.
Even China has been concerned as Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons threatens Beijing’s ability to rein in its capricious ally.
In past years, the assistance North Korea received from Pakistan in developing its nuclear weapons has been well-publicized. In the 2005 article “New Players on the Scene: A.Q. Khan and the Nuclear Black Market,” U.S. Air Force Col. Charles D. Lutes revealed the role Islamabad played in spreading nuclear technology to North Korea and Iran.
Now, insider sources in China have indicated it was Beijing that indirectly supplied North Korea by aiding Pakistan’s development of nuclear technology and gifting it critical raw materials.
According to Huang Huiping, a former researcher at the China Institute of Atomic Energy, “In the 1980s, one of the CIAE’s tasks was to transfer our nuclear technologies to other countries, including Pakistan. They sent people to China to study nuclear engineering, and China (including our Institute) also sent specialists to Pakistan to assist in their nuclear technology.”
In 2009, the Washington Post cited Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist, as saying that in 1982, China “had gifted us 50 kg [kilograms] of weapon-grade enriched uranium, enough for two weapons.”
China joined the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1992. Pakistan conducted its first successful nuclear weapons test in 1998, becoming the seventh country to explode a nuclear bomb. But it still lacked the rocket technology needed to deliver its nuclear weapons. And in 2000, China pledged that it would not assist any country in developing ballistic missiles.
But Chinese aid to Pakistan continued, and Huang Huiping entertained private doubts.
“Because China and India don’t get along, China assists Pakistan [in its nuclear weapons program] to oppose India,” she told NTD Television in a phone interview. “Having witnessed such irresponsible acts, I began to seriously question whether these advanced technologies would bring benefit or catastrophe to humanity.”
From Islamabad to the Kim dynasty
Pakistani nuclear arms and technology, aided by China, has ended up in North Korean hands via the black market and through Chinese corporations associated with the Communist Party.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice announced charges against a northeastern Chinese company called Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development for supplying North Korea with alloys necessary for uranium enrichment. The company’s head, a female government official and Party member, was arrested and placed under investigation in the fallout of this incident.
Another example: in September 2001, the United States imposed sanctions on the state-owned China Metallurgical Equipment Corporation (MECC) for selling missile parts to Pakistan. This caused a political scandal that Beijing moved to correct.
According to economics expert Yang Jianli, a pro-democracy dissident who founded Initiatives for China, the Chinese regime sentenced five people involved in the sale of key metallurgical technologies to Pakistan. In 2002, Yang himself had been detained by the Ministry of State Security while investigating a surge in unemployment in Northeast China.
Yang’s cellmate happened to be one of the five MECC officials convicted in the face of U.S. pressure.
“He told me he felt wronged,” Yang Jianli told NTD Television. “He was following orders by the Chinese government to sell those technologies. They said the State Council and the Central government had official approved the documents.”
But when the MECC official became a scapegoat, he was coerced to plead guilty to the charges under threat that he would be investigated for corruption instead. “In the end, the five of them were convicted on multiple charges and given eight-to-ten-year sentences,” Yang said.