Asia

North Korean missile vehicle 'similar' to China design

A rocket is carried by a military vehicle during a military parade to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang on 15 April, 2012 in this picture released by North Korea's KCNA
Image caption Experts say the vehicle transporting the missile is similar to Chinese vehicles

A vehicle seen in a North Korean military parade has become the focus of attention amid suggestions the design or technology may have come from China.

IHS Jane's Defence Weekly reported on Monday China may have sold the design or made the missile launch transporter seen at the Pyongyang parade on Sunday.

But China says it has broken no laws and a State Department spokesman said the US took China's word on the issue.

Meanwhile, North Korea vowed to launch more satellites "one after another".

In a statement late on Thursday, North Korea said it had finished its investigation into why its rocket last Friday failed but gave no details.

"No matter how loudly the US and Japanese reactionaries and their followers may cry and no matter how frantically the Lee Myung-bak group of rats may squeak, the DPRK's [North Korea's] satellites for peaceful purposes will be put into space one after another," said a space programme spokesman.

Pyongyang says the launch was to put a satellite into orbit to commemorate the centenary of the birth of its founding leader, Kim Il-sung. Critics say it was a banned test of missile technology.

'Repeated assurances'

The questions over North Korea's vehicle emerged in the defence journal's report that the 16-wheel missile transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) was similar to Chinese vehicles.

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Media captionJames Hardy of Janes on vehicle claims

Pyongyang held a huge military parade on Sunday which unveiled what appeared to be a large new missile. The vehicle in question was seen transporting the missile.

On Thursday Jane's Defence Weekly, citing an unnamed official, reported that the UN Security Council was investigating the claims that the launch vehicle was ''of Chinese origin''.

If it had supplied the technology or vehicle, China could be violating UN resolutions passed after North Korean nuclear and missile tests in 2006 and 2009, the report suggested.

Asked about "trade and technology exchanges" linked to the missile programme by a US House of Representatives committee, Mr Panetta declined to give details, citing "the sensitivity of that information". He added that he did not know ''the exact extent'' of Chinese assistance.

"But clearly there's been assistance along those lines," he said.

However, the US State Department said the US believed China's ''repeated assurances'' that it had abided by the UN resolutions.

''I think we take them at their word,'' State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. ''We're not presently aware of any UN probe into this matter.''

China, which is North Korea's closest ally, says it has adhered to international laws.

"China is always against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the carrier equipment for such weapons," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said on Thursday.

Experts say that while it is highly possible that the vehicle in question either came from China or was based on Chinese technology and design, it was difficult to ascertain whether China had infringed UN sanctions.

The vehicle could have been re-exported to North Korea from another country, or sold to Pyongyang for civilian purposes such as construction, Pieter Wezeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute told the Associated Press news agency.

''The Chinese could argue that they sold a commercial vehicle and that the North Koreans did not tell them about the military purpose of their purchase," said Baek Seung-joo, director of the Korea Institute of Defense Analysis (KIDA) in Seoul, in the Jane's Defence Weekly report.