Rogue Company or Nation?
Image Credit: Flickr / Yeowatzup

Rogue Company or Nation?


Last week, reports surfaced that Japan has evidence that a Chinese enterprise shipped vehicles capable of transporting and launching long-range missiles to North Korea. Such a move would likely violate U.N. sanctions.

The story itself isn’t new – The Diplomat among others reported on the possibility a few months back. What makes the story noteworthy is that what was exported – a transport erector launcher or TEL – has some special capabilities. As Bloomberg noted when the reports surfaced: “They are a concern because they could give the North the ability to transport long-range missiles around its territory, making them harder to locate and destroy.”

It’s worth noting at this point that North Korea isn’t currently believed to have any long range ballistic missiles to place on such a platform for launch. Indeed, the world was treated to a ringside view of its recent missile test failure. But however embarrassing that failure, if North Korea is able to continue to develop its missile capabilities and miniaturize them enough to fit on the platform, then this would be seen as extremely troubling for the West. Couple this with nuclear weapons, and the problems clearly multiply.

Troubling as all this is, though, the big question is whether China’s transfer of technology was an “accident,” specifically a case of a corporation simply doing what corporations do, or whether this move reflected state policy. Could this really be just a simple case of a company looking to make a buck?

This seems to make the most sense looking at all possibilities. Certainly, it seems possible a company may have taken a chance on selling such technology, counting on the fact that they weren’t selling missiles, just the transportation device to make them mobile. They may have believed this lowered the chances of being caught out (although any hope of this was banished when the North Koreans decided to parade the TEL around their capital)

Reported stories that the vehicles were sold and “used to carry lumber” are comical to say the least. But how about the most controversial idea: that the sale reflected state policy? On this, I’d have to say it’s unlikely. Earlier this month I had a chance to attend Track 2.0 dialogues involving both retired and current U.S and Chinese officials, as well as academics and military officials. Under the Chatham House rules of the conference I’m not able to report on the specifics, but although there’s clearly a great deal of mistrust on both sides, neither side wants to rock the boat. There seem to be clear red lines neither side are generally going to be willing to cross, and China’s political leaders, as well as members of the PLA, surely have a very strong understanding of U.S. concerns with regard to North Korea. As a result, the desire to ease tensions would likely trump any perceived advantage in such a move.

I would argue that there is reason to doubt Chinese intentions in other areas of dispute, but at least as far as the TEL controversy goes, there seems to be smoke without fire.

Harry Kazianis is assistant editor of The Diplomat.

Errol T
June 30, 2012 at 13:26

He was playing devil's advocate. Let's face it. Some companies will get around rules and regulations for a chance to make a quick buck. Until we get more evidence, we only have opinions for now.

Lung Sha SHou
June 23, 2012 at 00:12

The PRC is the largest and most dangerous rogue state on earth – I could not agree more.
Peter Navarro's books are excellent and provide much detail on this.
So much of the evil can be traced back to the central controllers – I understand much is done by the corrupt regional chiefs but many of the really sick stuff (abortions, organ "harvesting", Tienanmen, Falun Gong murders, Tibet, response to Tofu schools / HIV etc) has the fingerprints of the self appointed "Leaders".
A ciminal illegitmate regime

Lung Sha Shou
June 22, 2012 at 23:47

Gimme a break!
They knew, LOTS, they always do with North Korea.
That we let them get away with their "who me" is unbelievable.

June 21, 2012 at 22:14

@scdado7: Mr. proudchinaman, so you're a vehicle expert now?  Can you explain to us the similarity between the chinese TEL and the "Catepiller"?  Do you know, "wisemen speak because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something"?  — Plato

June 21, 2012 at 22:10

@applesauce: The world knows NK is a puppet and china is the puppet master.  china has known to be sneaky, and with the level of security there, you think this kind of vehicles can be delivered to NK without state officials secret seals?  You're either completely ignorant or deliberately dishonest.

June 21, 2012 at 05:04

fairly simple really, tradde? because the companies that own your polititians and hence your country is making boatloads from trade with china. have a problem with that? lol too bad

Leonard R.
June 20, 2012 at 22:02

The PRC is the largest and most dangerous rogue state on earth.North Korea could not exist without active assistance from Beijing.  I'm glad Western observers are starting to face facts.  
Now the next step will be to ask, "If Beijing is a hostile foreign power, why are we trading with it? "

June 20, 2012 at 16:34

well its a truck, if it did come from china, nk could have easily said its to move grains or animal feed(completely legit reason) then once it got the truck,modify it to carry missiles(also something that fits nk'spast behaviors).

the way to look at it is, what does china have to gain by providing nk with a tel that it know will provoke a response? the way i see it, it gains very little, hence i dont think its national policy, though a company taking a chance,maybe.

June 20, 2012 at 06:22

Any such 'vehicle' of same capability is running around other countries in the world, whether lumber or other cargo?
Let's smoke and fire 'Caterpiller'.

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