July 29, 2009 10:09
Chinese customs authorities confiscated 70 kg of vanadium that North Korea tried to smuggle through China. Vanadium has defense and nuclear uses -- alloys containing vanadium are used in missile casings -- but it was not clear what the stash was to be used for.
Dandong News, a newspaper from the Chinese-North Korean border city of Dandong in Liaoning Province, on Tuesday said the local customs office seized vanadium hidden in six fruit boxes from a truck heading to North Korea last Saturday. The confiscated material was contained in 68 bottles hidden among fruit and is worth 200,000 yuan (W36 million, US$1=W1,238), it said.
Vanadium is resistant to corrosion by sulphuric and hydrochloric acid and strengthens steel. It is alloyed with steel to make jet engines, missile casings and superconducting magnets.
After North Korea carried out its second nuclear test on May 25, the UN Security Council, at the initiative of the U.S., passed tougher sanctions seeking to curb trade in missile-related materials. China, which backed the sanctions, is apparently tightening controls of such materials going to North Korea.
Ironically, the Chinese government prompted a complaint to the WTO from the U.S. and the EU on June 23 about its long-standing export restrictions on rare "strategic" metals, including vanadium, used in production of munitions and development of environment-friendly technologies.
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