State-owned Chinese firm and a blacklisted North Korean company had a partnership for nearly a decade to mine for minerals useful in missile production; Chinese firm says it never did much
North Korea displayed ballistic missiles in an April 15 parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of founder Kim Il Sung. Photo: KCNA/KNS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
DANDONG, China—For most of the past decade, a Chinese state-owned company had a joint venture with a North Korean company under sanctions for involvement in Pyongyang’s atomic-weapons program, Chinese corporate and government records show.
China’s Limac Corp. and North Korea’s Ryonbong General Corp. set up a joint venture in 2008 to mine tantalum, niobium and zirconium, minerals that are useful in making phones and computers but also nuclear reactors and missiles.
The partnership of nearly a decade, not previously reported, shows how easily North Korea has skirted sanctions to do business with Chinese firms, a vital lifeline for the regime. A February report by United Nations sanctions experts said North Korea had acquired rocket parts and light aircraft via China and used front companies there to access the international financial system.
The U.S. sanctioned Ryonbong in 2005 and the U.N. did so in 2009, both saying the North Korean company was involved with weapons of mass destruction. Just six weeks ago, Washington added three Ryonbong employees to the U.S. sanctions list individually, two of them based in China.
The scope of the Limac-Ryonbong joint venture and its current status are unclear. It was incorporated in North Korea, which doesn’t disclose corporate records. The Ryonbong-Limac link was identified by Sayari Analytics, a financial-intelligence firm that works for banking and U.S. government clients and didn’t publicize its findings.