Images reveal China holding a ship linked to North Korean arms delivery to Russia

According to satellite photos obtained by Reuters, China is docking a Russian cargo ship suspected of transferring weapons from North Korea to Russia. This event comes as American fears over China’s backing of Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine are intensifying.

The Russian ship Angara which has been moving thousands of containers thought to carry North Korean armaments to Russian ports since August 2023, according to Britain’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank, has been docked in a Chinese shipyard in eastern Zhejiang province since February.

The ship’s arrival at the Chinese port highlights the difficulties facing the US and its allies in their attempts to break off Russia’s arms supplies, military, and financial ties.

China is allegedly helping Russia rebuild its military following its early failures in the Ukraine war, according to U.S. officials, as Russia continues to launch assaults against Ukraine and runs out of ammunition.

Kurt Campbell, the second-ranking diplomat in the State Department, declared earlier this year that Washington would not “sit by” if China strengthened its support for Russia.

According to a spokesman, the U.S. State Department has raised the matter with Chinese officials and is aware of “credible, open-source reports” that the Angara is docked in a Chinese port.

The official cited a United Nations resolution that limits trade with North Korea and mandates that member nations de-register any vessels participating in illicit activity. “We call on all member states to fulfill their obligations under UNSCR 2397,” the source said.

The spokeswoman, using the initials of their official names to refer to China and North Korea, stated, “Secretary Blinken will address a range of concerns, including Russia’s war against Ukraine and Russia-DPRK ties,” when he met with his Chinese counterparts.

Zhoushan Xinya Shipyard in Zhejiang, claiming to be China’s largest private ship repair enterprise on its website, stationed the Angara. RUSI got these satellite photographs in recent months from a number of organizations, including San Francisco-based Planet Labs PBC.

The ship’s distinctive automated identification system (AIS) transponder, momentarily activated for security reasons during a crowded section of the Korea Strait on its way to China, recognized it.

RUSI reports that the Angara stopped at Russian and North Korean ports in January and turned off its transponder before arriving in China on February 9—possibly for maintenance or repairs.

Not too long after reaching China, it ceased transmission again.

The United States sanctioned the ship in May 2022. RUSI, which has been monitoring its movements as part of a project to use open-source data to track North Korea’s sanctions-evasion networks, claims that from August 2023, the ship made at least 11 shipments between the North Korean port of Rajin and Russian ports.

Although it does not know the specifics of the Angara, China’s embassy in Washington stated that it “always opposes unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction that have no basis in international law or mandate from the Security Council.”

The foreign ministry of China likewise declared that it knew nothing about the situation.

Earlier this year, the United States and numerous other nations claimed that North Korean weapons supplies to Russia “flagrantly” violated numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions.

According to RUSI research fellow Joseph Byrne, China’s leadership should be aware that the warship with U.S. authorization has docked at its shipyard.

“If it lets these Russian vessels sail out of port uninspected and newly repaired, then it shows China likely won’t take any action on them,” Byrne stated.

Since February 2022, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the United States has frequently asked China to refrain from supporting Moscow’s war effort. This came shortly after Russian and Chinese leaders announced a “no-limits partnership.”

Blinken attacked Beijing for its alleged backing of Russia’s defense sector, claiming that Beijing was now the main supplier of vital parts for Moscow’s armaments, which Russia uses in its war in Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the Chinese cannot “have it both ways” by seeking better relations with Europe while supplying goods that pose what he called “the greatest challenge to European security since the end of the Cold War.”

The Angara’s website states that it has “strategic cooperation” with international shipping corporations, such as Maersk and Taiwan’s Evergreen Marine Corp., as well as ties with European technology companies. Asia, Europe, and the United States are the reported origins of the company’s clientele.

The North Korean and Russian regimes have both consistently downplayed criticism regarding the purported arms transfers. The Kremlin asserts that its work with Pyongyang does not violate international treaties and that it will forge relations with whatever country it chooses.

Campbell said that the growing Chinese and North Korean collaboration with Russia was “antithetical” to U.S. security interests in Europe and the Indo-Pacific.

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