TOKYO (AP) — Japan has evidence that a Chinese company exported to North Korea vehicles capable of transporting and launching missiles, in possible violation of U.N. sanctions, Japanese media reported Wednesday.
China called the reports inaccurate, and denied violating any U.N. restriction.
The U.S., which has previously said it took China at its word that it was complying with the sanctions, said Wednesday that in recent weeks it has raised with Beijing allegations that Chinese companies assisted North Korea's missile program.
According to the Japanese reports, four of the vehicles were shipped from Shanghai to North Korea last August aboard the Harmony Wish, a Cambodian-flagged cargo vessel. Japanese authorities tracked the ship by satellite, and searched it after it had delivered its cargo, when it transited through Japan the following month, the reports said.
Such vehicles — called TELs, for transporter, erector, launcher — became the focus of international attention when North Korea displayed what looked like several of them during a military parade in its capital, Pyongyang, in April.
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.
Japan's top government spokesman declined to confirm the reports Wednesday. But he said that if necessary, Japan would work with the international community to determine if U.N. regulations were violated.
In Beijing, Liu Weimin, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, said his country has not violated any restrictions.
"Chinese companies did not violate U.N. and Chinese laws," he said, calling the reports "inaccurate." He did not specifically confirm or deny the vehicles were sold, but said China is opposed to proliferation and is "complying with U.N. laws and regulations."
Although no suspicious vehicles were aboard the ship when it was searched in Japan, authorities found documents detailing the cargo it had unloaded in North Korea, and that included the vehicles, according to the Asahi, a major Japanese newspaper. It cited multiple but unnamed government sources.
It said the exported vehicles were believed to have been the ones used in the military parade, which was held shortly after a North Korea rocket launch that was widely condemned as an attempt to develop its long-range missile technology. The rocket, which North Korea claimed carried a satellite, failed soon after liftoff.