BEIJING: North Korea won’t be allowed to use China to evade international sanctions designed to prevent it from exporting weapons of mass destruction, a senior Chinese arms control official said on Friday.

However, the official said, China had serious reservations about a US-led plan, called the Proliferation Security Initiative, in which a group of 11 countries has agreed to stop and search planes and ships suspected of carrying banned weapons or missile technology. North Korea and Iran were named as countries of particular concern.

“China is fully opposed to proliferation,” said Liu Jieyi, director of the arms control and disarmament department at the Foreign Ministry, in an interview. But, he added, China was concerned that the way the group will carry out interdiction activities and the quality of intelligence that it might use “could make a bad situation worse.”

Liu’s comments came five days before a critical six-nation gathering in Beijing. China, Russia, the United States, Japan and South Korea will meet with North Korea and try to persuade it to abandon its nuclear weapons programmes. If the talks fail, US officials have said they are ready to launch an international effort aimed at halting North Korea’s sales of weapons technology and other controlled items. Most analysts agree that if a naval blockade is set up around North Korea, it will attempt to move its weapons and weapons technology through China to third countries.

Liu said China has enacted a series of laws designed to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and, referring to North Korea, said “we do not make exceptions.” However, he said his government was uncomfortable with the Proliferation Security Initiative because the techniques that might be used to board ships and inspect cargo could prompt a military confrontation. North Korea has warned that it would view any such behaviour as an act of war. Liu said that China was also concerned about whether the intelligence used to search ships would be faulty.

“In China,” he said, “we have a saying: You should not shoot a mosquito with a cannon. The collateral damage could be worse and you may miss the mosquito.”

Liu also said that China’s government was investigating several cases of Chinese companies trying to export weapons- related technology.

“There are cases under investigation or in the midst of legal proceedings,” he said. “Those found to have violated laws and regulations will be punished, and we are looking at serious punishments.” He said that in other cases, the government had levied fines or administrative sanctions on Chinese companies caught violating new rules controlling the export of weapons of mass destruction and related technology.

Liu said China was disappointed with the Bush administration’s recent moves to sanction Chinese companies. Specifically, he noted, US policy didn’t seem based on Chinese violations of any international or bilateral agreements. “The Americans never gave us any information about what the Chinese firms allegedly did wrong,” he said. “So it’s impossible for us to investigate.”—Dawn/LAT-WP News Service (a) The Washington Post

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