State Department Sanctioned Chinese Company Selling Launch Vehicles to North Korea

October 31, 2017 Updated: November 5, 2017    

The Treasury Department has sanctioned a Chinese company involved in North Korea’s ballistic missile program in a little-noticed press release on sanctions against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. (IRGC).

The 900-word press release from the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. (IRGC) as a state-sponsor of terror, laying out sanctions against companies directly doing business with the corps.

Few outlets picked up on the final paragraph of the Oct. 13 release.

The state department targeted four entities for supporting the proliferating weapons of mass destruction in connection with IRGC’s  activities, describing the group as “the world’s foremost state sponsor of terror.”

Besides designating three Iran-based entities, State also took aim at China-based Wuhan Sanjiang Import and Export Co. “for proliferation activities related to a key supporter of Iran’s military.”

“Wuhan Sanjiang has provided financial, material, technological, or other support for, or goods or services in support of, Iran’s Shiraz Electronics Industries,” said the release.

Iran’s Shiraz Electronics Industries (SEI) was designated under the same code in 2008 for being owned or controlled by Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics.

Since 2014, Wuhan Sanjiang has signed contracts to sell SEI navigation-related gyrocompasses and highly specialized sensors while trying to hide those transactions.

But it is in the final sentence of the release that the State department connects Chinese state-owned Wuhan Sanjiang with North Korea’s ballistic missile program.

“Additionally, in 2011, Wuhan Sanjiang transferred six off-road lumber transporter vehicles to North Korea, which North Korea subsequently converted into Transporter-Erector-Launchers for use in its ballistic missile program.”

This photo released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 6, 2017, shows a North Korean ICBM which was launched by the Chinese-made vehicle on July 4, 2017.
(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Those so-called lumber transport vehicles are generally considered too large and overbuilt for North Korea’s logging roads.

The trucks are perfectly suited, however, to being converted to mobile ballistic missile launch vehicles and have featured prominently in North Korean military parades.

While Wuhan Sanjiang markets the Wanshan 51200 (WS51200) as an eight-axle heavy lumber truck in documents provided to international watchdogs like the United Nations, the vehicle is more commonly put to military use.

In China, the trucks are directly marketed as transporter-erector-launchers with a specially designed cab that dips in the center for overly long missiles.

The sale of the trucks took place in 2011 and was revealed by 2013, when former President Barack Obama’s administration was widely criticized for overlooking China’s transfer of military technology in open violation of existing sanctions.

In September, a panel of U.N. security experts published a report that reiterated China’s direct involvement in North Korea’s ballistic missile program, including efforts to use front companies.

In the case of Wuhan Sanjian, the company is a subsidiary of China Sanjiang Space Group (CSSG), a large state-owned enterprise that specializes in the research and development of solid-fueled ballistic missiles and stealth/counterstealth technology.

CSSG is itself subordinate to the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, a major state-owned entity that is directly under the General Armaments Department of the People’s Liberation Army.

The UN report noted China’s effort to hide transactions or use legal provisions in sales agreements to provide a legal cover by claiming sales contracts for dual-use technologies be used for civilian purposes only.

As President Donald Trump prepares for his Asia tour from Nov. 3 to Nov 14, the role of China’s state-owned enterprises in North Korea’s missile program will likely come under increased scrutiny.