Is China Playing a Double Game?
Image Credit: Gill Penney

Is China Playing a Double Game?


The Washington Times reported this week that a ballistic missile launcher of Chinese origin was on display during a military parade in Pyongyang over the weekend. If confirmed, this would represent a daring violation of U.N. sanctions and raise serious questions about China’s credibility in regional non-proliferation efforts.  Yet it’s also a potential opportunity for the United States to repudiate Beijing’s assertions that its influence over North Korea is limited.

According to analysts, the launcher in question bears striking similarities to ones produced by the People’s Liberation Army between 2010 and 2011, and designed to carry a 6,000-kilometer range ICBM, which would be capable of reaching parts of Alaska. This suggests that the launcher was either manufactured in China or based on blueprints supplied by China. Though valid questions remain, one South Korean official has been quoted as saying that, “all goods have been imported from China.”

If the PLA did, in one way or another, provide the system to North Korea in the past year or two, China would have violated arms embargo provisions of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, which was put in place following North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006, and Resolution 1874, which strengthened sanctions in the wake of the second nuclear test in 2009.

Such a violation would be virtually unprecedented. U.S. diplomats who work on sanctions enforcement have told me that, although it takes a “minimalist” approach to catching violators in its own borders, China itself hasn’t been charged with such a blatant and serious breach of U.N. measures until now. Indeed, China has strong reasons not to violate resolutions: doing so would cast great doubt over its status as a “responsible great power,” and would also undermine an institution that serves China’s basic interests in managing regional conflict and promoting stability.

How, then, can we explain the allegations? If it’s not merely a case of North Korea copying a design from publicly-available information, there are two possibilities. First is that the PLA has “gone rogue,” making key decisions without the consent of the top civilian leadership. This would appear to fit a pattern including an anti-satellite missile launch in 2007 and a stealth fighter test conducted during a visit to Beijing by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in 2011, both of which seemed to catch China’s leaders off guard.

Indeed, the timing is curious. Just as news of the launcher surfaced, China agreed to a sternly-worded statement in the U.N. Security Council, condemning Pyongyang’s recent ballistic missile test, and warning of the possibility of additional sanctions.  

Nevertheless, the view of a PLA “gone rogue” exaggerates tensions in civil-military relations within China. As Andrew Scobell points out, there are “close, multiple and overlapping linkages between China’s military and the CCP (Chinese Communist Party).” Given the political and strategic consequences, it’s unlikely that a decision to provide ballistic missile technology to North Korea would have been made without the knowledge and consent of China’s top leaders.   


[...] history, not destroying his father’s legacy. But Kim Jong Un may also see quite clearly that relying on China won’t ensure his country’s future growth or development. While the rest of the world has made a [...]

Major Lowen Gil Marquez, Phil Army
June 14, 2012 at 12:27

The chinese communist cannot be trusted on their world even it is documented how much more on propaganda, they did it scarborugh shoal of the philippine island which they rob our natural resources and world endanegered spcies kind of  ocean aimals, fish, corals etc…

May 4, 2012 at 11:42

We owe more money to China for our bailout loan. Our debt is worth more then they make of North Korea all teteghor in 10 years. China would try to intervene politically, but can not afford to take us on due to the debt we owe them. Plus, we would crush them anyways. Nobody would back North Korea but we would get help from Japan, South Korea, and the UK for sure. Hopefully France will pick up their panties and give us a hand too. We really don’t need their help but it would hurt us much more financially to take this war on by ourselves. Was this answer helpful?

April 27, 2012 at 11:44

Anyway all, the North Korean don’t need to buy or copy chinese weapon,
The North Korean just ask for the weapon or was given by the chinese.
The Chinese are mass producing there weapons, in case war broke out
so they can give it to there allies like North Korea and other Rogue nation.
As of now the situation in North Korea, Don’t mind what the North Korean say or do,We should all focus on China.Because everthing is said and done by North Korea
is by The Chinese Intelligence Agency and goverment.

Daniel Chao
April 25, 2012 at 10:46

@Lung Sha Shou

Who are you to say that America’s wrongdoings weigh less than China’s? John is simply trying to tell you to not only look at China as being the “bad guy”, but to realize that it’s a two sided struggle, and that America does the same things as China does, only it has managed to make its citizens see these actions as “righteous” through various propaganda.

You have got to calm yourself down and see this from an objective point of view. You are becoming much like “a cheerleader” for America, seeing only from their perspective.

Doing something to “weaken America” isn’t “evil” in any sense at all. Just like how every action of America is aimed at strengthening itself. Every country does the same thing.

April 25, 2012 at 09:43

This is quite interesting as USA power diminishes and China grows it will become increasingly aggressive and start gobbling up land, sea and minerals wherever it can.

Lung Sha Shou
April 24, 2012 at 21:03


China does not have a good name.

They have a terrible name.

anyone that knows anything and is informed sees China for what it is.

Johhny boy, as I keep telling you, your saying something does not make it true.

You are not Bo Xilai and you are not in Chonqquing. You don’t get to define truth or history.

In case you hadn’t noticed the diplomat focuses on Asia. The many sins of the US do not excuse China in any way. It is only that China is desperate to become the hegemon and be the most powerful nation in the world. They cannot act responsibly or fairly NOW, so they must be resisted.

You have a broken sense of morality as I would expect from a regime supporter.

Because you have no clarity of vision and are totally biased your comments are mere puffery and lightweight. You are like the cheerleader with pom poms at the side of a football game.

Instead of being such a resentful sulky baby, why don’t you get a bit adult and have a real look at the crimes of the CCP and develop an ethical or moral compass.

You are like schoolchild of poor parentage who says “he does it too” or “he does it worse.”

Worst of all your impure motives and hateful vengeful arrogant outlook seeps through and lends the lie to most of what you say.

Lung Sha Shou
April 24, 2012 at 20:54


Your comment about NK attacking SK and Japan demonstrates YOUR morality and that of the Criminals you support.

Rising peacefully might be the party line – but its is a repuslive lie, the resentment and hatred shines from your contributions – it is obvious you seek to do others injury and are full of htred.

I would be happy if you were HONEST.

After hat you could work on consistent.

Pity you don’t have the respect for others that you demand for yourself.

It kind of begs the question. Why do you deserve it and not them.

In the end its only about what China can GET and doing that as quick as possible – you will use the sins of others to justify your own – like anyone without principle or decency.

I am certain that Japan needs a formidable nuclear arsenal on account of people like you and what you channel and represent.

Lung Sha Shou
April 24, 2012 at 20:48

Your contribtions don’t stand up to reason and persuasion.

They are Ministry of Propaganda distortions.

You are dishonest and hypocritical

You advocate war for the interests of the criminals in Beijing.

You have no regard for the welfare of Koreans or Japanese.

You are a sad resentful embittered and racist, like so many Chinese leaders.

You think only of your own interests – the power of the ruling clique or animals.

April 23, 2012 at 20:05

As Irsael is to the USA in the Middle East, North Korea is China’s foot soldier. N Korea depends 90% on China-dont tell me China has no say? The disputed claims in the South China Sea is another issue where N Korea can be the proxy for trouble making.

April 22, 2012 at 13:12

Kristal and others: Please wait for story to develop before giving your two cents. Now Reuter reported that it is only Chassis part, not the whole trunk. I am sure that the story will evolved again before all the facts going out.

That’s what happen with current media today. They don’t research and verified and just report rumor and then change the story again and again.

Andrew K P Leung
April 22, 2012 at 11:27

Building a whole case of China’s real influence over North Korea takes more than sighting a missile launcher suspected to be a Chinese model.

The argument of a possible “doube game” to seek geolitical balance against the US’s Pivot to Asia begs the question whether a perceived missile-ready North Korea will not intensify a regional arms race amongst China’s neigbours including Japan. This would also accelerate the regional shift towards America’s Asia-Pacific military umbrella. Neither of this would be in China’s strategic interest.

So why should China play such a double game? If not, what evidence it there that China can exert influence at will over North Korea?

Sure, China has some influence but North Korea has a will of its own. Don’t forget the earlier “Naughty child” story in rumour mills of the commentariat.

Best regards,


April 22, 2012 at 00:42


You are grossly underestimating the seriousness of this issue. We are not talking about ‘any’ heavy truck here. But rather a multi-axle, heavy duty missile launcher. The article says that the launcher can help launch ICBM’s with a 6000 km range. Such an ICBM would probably weigh around 50 tonnes. So its a super-special vehicle costing a lot & produced very less in numbers. And since it facilitates the transport & launch of strategic weapons, it should have been ‘cleared’ by those high up in the government. Also, since its about N. Korea, extra care should’ve gone in. To say such decision-making people have NO clue as to the implications of their actions would be, is a shame. Clearly, that doesn’t bode well for an admistration hoping to solve global problems when its leadeship can’t even differentiate between a normal utility truck and one that carries a 50-tonne ICBM!

Besides, a ‘truck’ usually can carry various loads, components & cargo, not a missile. But a launcher carries only a missile. It can have no other dual-use civilian application. It has high capacity hydraulics, multi-axle drives, military grade electronic & electrical controls systems. So we’re looking at a leadership that plays ‘double games’ in the words of the author, or a leadership that’s so ignorant about the weight of the responsibilities u’on its shoulder, that it enables junior bureaucrats & generals to circumvent & fool them – which is even more dangerous!

Wilson Chau
April 21, 2012 at 12:52

@ a_canadian_observe

Thanks. “Slipped through” undetected might not be a suitable description of this hiccup.

Nonetheless, I genuinely believe that it is probably easy to buy transport hardware from China. For instance, that particular heavy transport truck chassis type (WS600?) was even displayed on some poster with all of its specifications etc, indicating that it is an item most likely offered for export. The North Koreans could have either bought the truck itself, and probably used reasons such as using the truck as a tank transporter or some other heavy duty vehicle, then, as I explained in my theory, installed their own missile-related gadgets – after all Pyongyang has the means and know how to produce their own TELs. Alternatively, Pyongyang could have obtained the blueprints by way of purchase from the truck designer itself.

Whilst China’s arms industry is state owned, I don’t believe there are such tight controls over all the institutions or weapons systems, especially utility hardware. Given that a lot of these truck manufacturers see a lot of value in selling equipment offshore, and given that these truck manufacturers also produce civilian vehicles or civilianised versions of their military designs, a buyer like Pyongyang would find it easy to buy TEL vehicles.

This is obviously something that has to stop and China probably has to be a lot more vigilent or critical of its conventional arms and vehicle sales to Pyongyang. However, without an arms embargo, and as long as Beijing continues to sell conventional weapons and heavy commercial equipment to North Korea, there is really no guarantee that North Korea could cherry pick off-the-shelf equipment that could serve in a logistical function in support of the broader missile/WMD program.

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