UNITED NATIONS (AP) — China blocked the release Tuesday of a report by U.N. experts accusing North Korea of violating U.N. sanctions that ban the export and import of ballistic missile and nuclear-related items as well as conventional arms and luxury goods.
China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong told reporters after a closed-door meeting of the Security Council to discuss implementation of two rounds of sanctions against the North that Beijing is "still studying that report."
The report by the seven independent experts appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to monitor implementation of sanctions was sent to the 15 Security Council members for their approval by Tuesday morning. Diplomats said China was the only country that objected to its immediate release.
Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador Philip Parham said there was "pretty broad support" for the report in the council but China had problems with it.
The panel's first report, in May 2010, was also held up by China, which has close ties to North Korea. It was finally released in November after Beijing dropped its objections.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a faxed statement that "China is earnest and responsible in implementing Security Council resolutions." She said the panel's report "does not represent the Security Council's position" nor the position of the council committee that monitors sanctions against North Korea.
The report, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, said North Korea remains "actively engaged" in exporting ballistic missiles, components and technology to numerous customers in the Middle East and South Asia in violation of U.N. sanctions.
The panel said prohibited ballistic missile-related items are suspected to have been transferred between North Korea and Iran on regularly scheduled flights of Air Koryo and Iran Air, with trans-shipment through a third country that diplomats identified as China.
It also said North Korea has completed — or is about to complete — construction of a second launch site for long-range rockets on its west coast close to Tongchangdong which could be used for ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. sanctions. It said the installations appear "bigger and more sophisticated" than the original site on the east coast used for the 1998, 2006 and 2009 Taepodong missile launches.
The Security Council imposed sanctions against North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006 and stepped up sanctions after its second test in 2009 to try to derail the country's rogue nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The second round strengthened an arms embargo, authorized ship searches on the high seas for suspected banned items, and ordered an asset freeze and travel ban on companies and individuals involved in the country's nuclear and weapons programs.
While U.N. sanctions haven't stopped the North's ballistic missile and nuclear programs or its arms trading, the panel said, "they have made it more difficult and expensive for the country to pursue these."
But North Korea has exploited loopholes and other vulnerabilities in shipping and transportation practices and has become increasingly sophisticated in establishing shell and front companies and offshore financial agents, and in using multiple affiliates and aliases to mask individuals and companies subject to sanctions, it said.
As an example, the panel said information has recently come to light that Union Top Management, the shell company registered in Hong Kong that chartered an aircraft impounded in Bangkok last December with 35 tons of arms, planned five different fights. The Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane flying from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, with the arms was the first flight, it said.
Portugal's U.N. Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, who chairs the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea, told reporters he believes the allegations in the report "are indeed serious."
He said he expects the committee to informally discuss the panel's findings and recommendations.
According to the panel, North Korea announced several major escalations in its nuclear program during the past year: the weaponization of separated plutonium, revelation of a uranium enrichment program, construction of a light water reactor, and announcement of a program to develop nuclear fusion technology to obtain "safe and environment-friendly new energy."
The panel made 24 recommendations on improving monitoring of sanctions and oversight of their implementation and strengthening measures to prevent the export and import of banned items including enhanced cargo inspections and customs vigilance.
The panel said North Korea should be "compelled" to abandon its uranium enrichment program, saying it believes the government's aim in starting it was primarily for military purposes. North Korea should also abandon construction of a new light water reactor, which it is using as justification for the uranium enrichment program, it said.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects date in 1st paragraph to Tuesday, instead of Friday. For global distribution.)