Trucks smuggling in hidden titanium to bypass sanctions

Seol Song Ah  |  2016-04-29 15:53
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China’s decision to implement strong international sanctions against North Korea has forced the regime to devise new methods to smuggle in metals such as titanium that are essential in weapons manufacturing. Daily NK has learned that Pyongyang is using its trade companies to hide titanium plates on the bottoms of their trucks when crossing the border, in order to enable uninterrupted supply. 

“We heard that sanctions were kicking in and not long after that, the supply for titanium plates used for weapons manufacturing dried up,” a source from North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Wednesday. “The Dandong customs office (in China) is closely watching all goods related to weapons production, so they haven’t officially been permitted to come through since March,” the source explained. 

Sources in the same province and South Pyongan Province corroborated this news. 

A titanium plate (20 mm x 200 mm x 200 mm) costs approximately 1,000 to 1,500 RMB, and those manufactured for military purposes are being smuggled into Sinuiju hidden underneath trucks, claimed the source.    

Due to its lightness and strength, titanium has multiple applications in industries like shipbuilding, chemicals, and oil refineries, and is also used as a material to build nuclear reactors and airplanes. The metal has good thermal resistance, which is why it is frequently used in the North to manufacture missiles and other weapons. 

In other words, for Pyongyang’s nuclear and long-range missile development plans, titanium is an essential material. “There are titanium mines here as well, but the quality is not as good so we’re dependent on imports,” the source explained. 

Beijing’s participation in global sanctions has threatened Pyongyang’s supply chain. The source reported that even if a single titanium plate is uncovered during customs inspections in Dandong, it can lead to the seizure of all goods on the truck and an investigation into the Chinese counterpart who sold the titanium and the vehicle used to transport it. 

In light of these developments, the leadership has ordered its trade companies to “use all means possible” to bring in the material, leading to creative methods such as attaching the plates to the bottom of cargo trucks. 

The Chinese government has also prohibited trade in any materials that could be used for military purposes, additionally putting the damper on solar panel production within the North. 

“These days, they’re even placing restrictions on the smaller titanium plates that are used to make solar panels,” the source said. “Ahead of the 7th Party Congress, when they are supposed to promote Kim Jong Un’s legacy of resolving the power shortage through solar energy, panel production is on the brink of coming to a halt.” 

For this reason, trade companies are under increased pressure to find new ways to secure their supply of titanium plates, offering their Chinese counterparts higher prices. Faltering solar panel production could lead to negative “loyalty assessments” during the upcoming chonghwa (self-criticism sessions) for the “70-Day Battle,” the source said. 

*Translated by Jiyeon Lee

 
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2017.06.09
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