NEW YORK – North Korea has reconfigured Japanese-made civilian radar systems for use by naval ships as showcased at an anti-ship missile test reported last year, a document compiled by experts investigating U.N. sanctions against the country says.
The 73-page document, seen by Kyodo News ahead of its submission to the Security Council next month, also cites a ship linked to a U.N.-blacklisted North Korean shipping company berthed near a city in western Japan for a few days last March.
With the revelation that commercial Japanese devices have been funneled to North Korean military forces, the Japanese government may feel compelled to come up with a new response to ensure the effectiveness of sanctions, particularly after its decision Wednesday to tighten measures to punish Pyongyang for its recent activities.
The Security Council has also been discussing sanctions against the North in response to its fourth nuclear test in January and satellite launch using ballistic missile technology this month — both banned under U.N. resolutions.
The Panel of Experts was set up under a 2009 Security Council resolution after Pyongyang’s second nuclear test to investigate how sanctions are implemented and present recommendations to enhance the sanctions regime.
In this year’s report, the eight-member panel has also offered insight into its investigations into other cases, including arms-related shipments by a North Korean company from China to Syria, an increasing use of drones by North Korea and the country’s provision of police training in Uganda and Vietnam in violation of U.N. sanctions.
Concerning the Japanese radars, the report says, “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea acquired and adapted commercial antennas for their naval vessels, three of which were seen during the test-firing of an anti-ship missile publicized on Feb. 7, 2015.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who also controls the country’s military as supreme commander, watched the operation by the Korean People’s Navy, the panel says, citing an article published by the country’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper.
Although the unnamed Japanese manufacturer said it had “no records of sale” to the country after June 12, 2009, the panel notes that the systems displayed aboard the missile boats were “off-the-shelf products.” They are widely used around the world in the fishing and leisure craft markets, it adds.
As the items cannot be traced without a serial number, the panel cautions countries to remain on guard when exporting any maritime electronics, including radars, sonar systems and compasses.
This was not the first case of Japanese commercial products being converted for illicit purposes in North Korea.
The International Atomic Energy Agency uncovered a Japanese-made vacuum pump being used at a North Korean nuclear facility in a 2007 inspection.
A Tokyo-based trading agent escaped charges for conducting the unauthorized export. The Japanese police reported that an executive admitted to exporting the pump to Taiwan knowing it would eventually be shipped to North Korea.
The company was warned by the Japanese government the following year not to engage in similar practices.
Also mentioned in the report was an incident involving the Hui Chon, a vessel associated with Ocean Maritime Management Co., which anchored off the coast of Sakaiminato city in Tottori Prefecture from March 9-13 last year.
OMM, based in Pyongyang, was added to the U.N. sanctions list in 2014 by the Security Council after one of its cargo ships was seized in Panama. The Chong Chon Gang was laden with concealed arms buried under bags of sugar when it was intercepted in 2013 while traveling from Cuba to North Korea.
Japan told the panel the Hui Chon “had been permitted to take shelter from inclement weather,” but it remained outside the harbor the entire time.
Tokyo claimed it had no legal grounds to detain the ship, as it had the right to “innocent passage” in territorial waters. It remains unknown why the ship was traveling near Japanese waters.
The panel also cites a report from a member state in December 2015 about a shipment of cargo from Dalian to Lattakia, Syria, containing commercially available items that could be used for military purposes. The shipment was controlled by entities tied to Korea Mining Development Trading Corp., which handles weapons exports for North Korea.
The cargo, seized in May 2014, included machinery and measuring devices. “Certain items may be used in the production of arms or a principal component of Scud missile liquid propellant,” says the panel, which conducted an on-site inspection.
The items were “mostly sourced from the Mainland (China), Hong Kong and Taiwan with some coming from Denmark, Japan and the United States.” None of the suppliers knew they would be re-exported to Syria, the panel says.
The Japanese supplier told the panel it asked one of the Chinese procurement companies about the “end user,” but did not get a response.
Japanese technology was also found in North Korean drones, which was also highlighted by the panel in the report. It says the country has around 300 drones and its intelligence service, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, is involved in the procurement and operation of drones for reconnaissance.
The drone that crashed into Baengnyeong island in March 2014, for instance, contained components that were from Japan, including a camera that had been sold to a Chinese distributor.
Of the two other drones that crashed into Paju and Samcheok in the spring of 2014, there were three Japanese components — an engine and muffler, a gyro board and a motor. The report points out that the drones’ components, also from the United States, China and Switzerland, are “widely available” and not on a list of prohibited items.
The panel is recommending expanding the scope of prohibited items to include unmanned aerial vehicles with reconnaissance and other capabilities as well as navigation and guidance systems for UAVs.
Drones are subject to the current ban but only if they have a range of more than 300 kilometers and can carry an object of over 500 kilograms.