World News

China seizes smuggled metal bound for North Korea

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese border police have seized 70 kg (154 lb) of the strategic metal vanadium bound for North Korea, a local newspaper said on Tuesday, foiling an attempt to smuggle a material used to make missile parts.

The U.N. Security Council has tightened restrictions on North Korea in response to its May 25 nuclear test. The sanctions are meant to cut off the North’s arms trade.

Although the seizure is in line with China’s own export controls, Chinese analysts had predicted Beijing would step up inspections on road and rail traffic into North Korea to help enforce the tightened sanctions.

Altogether 68 bottles totaling 70 kg of vanadium worth 200,000 yuan ($29,280) were seized at the Dandong border with North Korea, the Dandong News said.

“Customs agents at the Dandong border crossing inspect six boxes of the rare metal vanadium found hidden under boxes of fruit in a truck stopped during border checks,” the newspaper said in a front-page caption of a photo dated July 24.

Vanadium is a metal that strengthens steel and protects against rust. It is alloyed with steel to make missile casings, as well as high speed tools, superconducting magnets and jet engines.

China restricts the export of vanadium and other minor metals as part of a domestic policy meant to preserve strategic metals, encourage investment in processing industries and control international price fluctuations.

On Monday the chief executive of a Japan-based trading company pleaded guilty in a Japanese court to illegally exporting to North Korea two tanker trucks that could be used as missile launch pads, the Kyodo news agency said.

($1=6.830 yuan)

Reporting by Lucy Hornby and Benjamin Kang Lim, Editing by Dean Yates