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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#485(Special)】North Korean Attempt to Smuggle Weapons for Uighurs

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2017.12.14 (Thu)

December 12, 2017

     China has recently found North Korean military members’ attempt to smuggle weapons for armed insurgents of the Uighurs, an ethnic minority in China, according to Chinese sources. The incident has been a factor behind the rapid deterioration of Beijing-Pyongyang relations, they said. Details of the incident are as follows:

Massive guns and ammunition seized in China
     Around 1:20 a.m. on September 8, Chinese authorities seized two trucks carrying weapons of the Korean People’s Army in Chagbai of China’s Jilin province after Chinese contraband traders preparing for illicit trade with North Korea found the dubious trucks and notified the finding to the authorities. The Chinese traders got massive cash reward.
     The authorities arrested four Uighurs, while three others fled away. No North Koreans were seized then. Whether any North Korean military members fled away or were absent there is uncertain. The seized Uighurs told the authorities that North Korean military members who provided the weapons came from Chunggang county of Chagang province in North Korea, loaded the weapons on a boat at some point between Sakchu and Pyoktong counties in North Pyongan province and crossed the Yalu River on the China-North Korea border.
     KPA weapons seized there included 32 handguns and 20 boxes of their ammunition, 150 AK-47 assault rifles and 40 boxes of their ammunition, 37 machineguns and 60 boxes of their ammunition, 130 old manual rifles and 80 boxes of their ammunition, 10 82-millimeter mortars and 20 boxes of their ammunition, and 20 boxes of grenades.
     The Chinese authorities suspected the VIII Corps of the Korean People’s Army as the smuggler and offered joint investigations with North Korea. However, North Korea rejected the offer and vowed to investigate on its own. A Chinese state security bureau (political police) is in charge of the incident, which has been strictly kept secret in the vicinity of the incident site, according to the sources.

China toughened sanctions on Pyongyang after the incident
     Given the massive weapons, senior KPA officers of at least corps-commander level might have been involved in the attempt. Selling weapons to Uighur insurgents engaging in armed struggle against the Chinese authorities represents an anti-China move that the Chinese Communist Party cannot tolerate. Uighur militants could have used these weapons for terrorist attacks in China during the Communist Party Congress in Beijing in October. While North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un might have been unaware of the smuggling, Pyongyang’s rejection of joint investigations and its failure to punish anyone so far over the incident should have angered Chinese President Xi Jinping.
     In chronological order, North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test on September 3, the attempted smuggling occurred on September 8 and the United Nations Security Council adopted a sanctions resolution against North Korea, with China voting for the resolution on September 11. China has strictly implemented the U.N. sanctions on North Korea since September. As North Korean companies and their joint ventures in China have been ordered to withdraw by early January, North Korean workers have been returning home one after another. In late November, Goryeo, the largest Korean restaurant in China’s border city of Dandong, was closed, leading 200 women employees to return to North Korea. Beyond the U.N. sanctions, China has implemented its unilateral sanction to cut annual pipeline crude oil supply to North Korea by 30% from 500,000 tons to 350,000 tons.
     North Korea launched the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile at a time when Beijing-Pyongyang relations were deteriorating in the wake of the smuggling incident. At the United Nations Security Council considering additional sanctions on North Korea in response to the missile launch, China could choose not to veto a U.S.-proposed full embargo on crude oil and petroleum products exports to North Korea.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a member of the Planning Committee at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and Visiting Professor at Reitaku University.

(Note; the incident of attempted weapons smuggling was not confirmed by Uighur and North Korean sources.)