Satellite Images Of China Dock Show Russian Ship Linked To North Korean Arms Transfers

Satellite images reviewed by Reuters reveal that China is providing docking facilities for a U.S.-sanctioned Russian cargo ship involved in transferring North Korean arms to Russia, raising U.S. concerns about Beijing’s support for Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a British think tank, reported that the Russian vessel Angara has been docked at a shipyard in China’s eastern Zhejiang province since February. Since August 2023, the ship is believed to have transported thousands of containers from North Korea to Russian ports, allegedly containing munitions.

With Ukraine under a renewed Russian assault and running short of ammunition, U.S. officials have issued increasingly stark warnings about what they say is China’s help rebuilding Russia’s military after its early setbacks in the Ukraine war.

That support is expected to top the agenda this week as Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Beijing.

The State Department’s second ranked diplomat, Kurt Campbell, said this month that Washington would not “sit by” if Beijing increased its backing for Moscow.

A spokesperson for the U.S. The State Department said it was aware of “credible, open-source reports” that the Angara is currently moored in a Chinese port and had raised the issue with Chinese authorities.

“We call on all member states to fulfil their obligations under UNSCR 2397,” the official said, referring to a United Nations resolution restricting trade with North Korea and requiring U.N. states to de-register any vessels involved in illicit activities.

“When Secretary Blinken meets with his PRC counterparts this week, he will address a range of concerns, including Russia’s war against Ukraine and Russia-DPRK ties,” the spokesperson said, referring to China and North Korea by the initials of their official names.

Satellite images RUSI obtained in recent months from companies including San Francisco-based Earth imaging firm Planet Labs PBC showed the Angara docked at Zhoushan Xinya Shipyard in Zhejiang, which on its website says it is China’s largest private ship repair company.

The ship was identified by its unique automatic identification system (AIS) transponder that had been briefly turned on, likely for safety reasons, while navigating a busy stretch of the Korea Strait en route to China.

RUSI said that before arriving in China on Feb. 9, seemingly for repairs or maintenance, the Angara had been docked in January at North Korean and Russian ports with its transponder turned off. It again stopped transmitting shortly after arriving in China.


The ship, sanctioned by the U.S. in May 2022, had conducted at least 11 deliveries between the North Korean port of Rajin and Russian ports from August 2023, according to RUSI, which has been tracking its movements as part of a project to use open source data to monitor North Korea’s sanctions evasion networks.

China’s embassy in Washington said it was not aware of the details related to the Angara, but that China “always opposes unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction that have no basis in international law or mandate from the Security Council.”

China’s foreign ministry also said it had no information about the matter.

The U.S. and dozens of other countries said earlier this year that the North Korean weapons transfers to Russia “flagrantly” violate multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Joseph Byrne, a research fellow with RUSI, said China’s government should know that the U.S.-sanctioned vessel was docked at its shipyard.

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

Washington has consistently urged China not to support Moscow’s military actions since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This appeal follows shortly after Russia and China announced a “no limits” partnership. Just last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticised China for backing Russia’s defence industry, stating that Beijing is now the main supplier of essential components for Russian weaponry used in Ukraine. Neither Russia’s foreign ministry nor the Zhoushan Xinya Shipyard in China responded to requests for comments regarding the Angara ship.

The company’s website says its clients come from around Asia, Europe and the U.S. and that it has “strategic cooperation” with global shipping companies, including Maersk and Taiwan’s Evergreen Marine Corp, as well as partnerships with European technology companies.

Both Russia and North Korea have repeatedly dismissed criticism over the alleged weapons deliveries. Moscow says it will develop ties with whatever countries it wants and that its cooperation with Pyongyang does not contravene international agreements.

Campbell told an event in Washington on Monday that the growing Chinese and North Korean partnership with Russia was “antithetical” to U.S. security interests in Europe and the Indo-Pacific.

With Inputs From Reuters

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