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Leaked Cable: U.S. Confronted China Over Illicit North Korea Weapons Deal

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kim jong-il hu jintao
In this TV grab, North Korea's Kim Jong-Il shakes Chinese President Hu Jintao's hand.
STR/AFP/Getty Images

After apparent efforts by a Chinese manufacturer to export of missile-grade steel to a "North Korean weapons trading firm" — an alleged deal that would represent a violation of two United Nations Security Council resolutions — the State Department instructed the American embassy in Beijing to confront the Chinese government. The stark diplomatic confrontation is recorded in a "secret," previously unreported, December 2009 cable released this week by WikiLeaks that is signed "CLINTON."

With journalistic aplomb, the cable lays out the background of the alleged illicit weapons deal:

The United States has information indicating that as recently as November 2009, China's Maanshan Huntian Equipment Ltd. Company was attempting to supply several types of specialty steel to a North Korean weapons trading firm. We understand that one of the specialty steels to be provided by the Chinese company is titanium-stabilized duplex stainless steel (Ti-DSS). Ti-DSS is controlled by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and would require a license under China's own missile-relevant export control laws. Ti-DSS can be used in the production of Scud and No Dong missiles and is also prohibited from being transferred to North Korea under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874. We want to share this information with Chinese officials and request that they take all appropriate measures to ensure that Maanshan Huntian Equipment Ltd. Company is not acting as a source of supply to ballistic missile programs in North Korea.

The cable goes on to provide the text of communique called a "non-paper" that the American Embassy in Beijing is instructed to deliver to the "appropriate host government officials." It begins: "We would like to alert you to a matter of proliferation concern and request your assistance in investigating this activity." 

The "non-paper" highlights for the Chinese government the potential violations of the Missile Technology Control Regime and the United Nations Security Council resolutions and says flatly: "We are concerned that this specialty steel could be used to support North Korea's missile development efforts." The cable asks Beijing to "take measures to ensure that companies in China are not supplying controlled material to weapons-related entities in North Korea."

Despite confronting the Chinese government with these explosive charges, the communique concludes in the politest terms: "We look forward to future cooperation on nonproliferation issues and would appreciate hearing of any actions you take in response to this information at the earliest possible time."

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