BEIJING — In a sign of growing concern about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, China published a long list Tuesday that included military-like hardware and chemical substances to be banned from export to North Korea for fear they could be used in adding to its increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons programs.
If put into place, the export controls would be some of the strongest steps taken by China, the North’s closest ally, to try to limit the country’s nuclear programs. The announcement indicates that China is following through on some UN Security Council sanctions it approved months ago, according to a noted US arms specialist.
The list of banned items was released amid a flurry of reports suggesting that North Korea was accelerating its two nuclear weapons programs. Two weeks ago, new satellite photographs showed that North Korea might be resuming production of plutonium at its newly reconstructed nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.
The move comes less than a week after China made another unsuccessful attempt to revive talks aimed at persuading the North to give up its nuclear capabilities. The United States continues to resist restarting the talks, which North Korea has used to extract concessions without making long-term changes to its nuclear program.
“The release of the new export control list is a signal China is concerned about the speeding up of weaponization” of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, said Zhu Feng, the deputy director of the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Beijing University, who called the move very important. In particular, he said, the Chinese are concerned about resumption of plutonium production at the Yongbyon complex, the centerpiece of North Korea’s nuclear program.
China has long resisted punishing North Korea for its nuclear programs, but has appeared increasingly frustrated as the North’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, has appeared to ignore Chinese pleas for moderation. China agreed to the UN sanctions after the North conducted a nuclear test this year over Chinese objections.
David Albright, the US specialist who said China is now implementing the UN sanctions passed in March, added that the Chinese ban “will help, since North Korea procures so much from China.”
China has moved before to stop the export of other technologies that could be used in nuclear programs, including missile technology, though it did not single out any country.
The items on the list China released Tuesday were called “dual-use technologies” because they can be used for either civilian or military purposes, and they included items that could be used to build more chemical weapons and to make biological weapons.
Banned items include Ebola, a virus that can be used for research as well as a biological weapon; radium; flash X-ray generators; and microwave antennas to accelerate ions.
The first vice foreign minister of North Korea, Kim Kye-gwan, said North Korea is ready to talk without conditions, a standard phrase from North Korea for some time now.
But the Obama administration has said it sees no sign that the North Korean government is serious about reducing its nuclear program, saying it appears to be increasing its nuclear activities.