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China harbors ship that delivered arms from North Korea to Russia - Reuters

China harbors ship that delivered arms from North Korea to Russia - Reuters Photo: China harbors a Russian ship carrying weapons from North Korea (Getty Images)

China has provided a berth for a Russian cargo ship under US sanctions involved in the supply of North Korean weapons to Russia, according to Reuters.

Britain's Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank reported that the Russian vessel Angara, which has transported thousands of containers allegedly containing North Korean munitions to Russian ports since August 2023, has been anchored at a Chinese shipyard in eastern Zhejiang province since February.

The ship's presence in a Chinese port underscores the challenges faced by the United States and its allies as they try to cut off military and economic support to Russia. As Ukraine runs out of ammunition, US officials have issued increasingly sharp warnings about China's help in rebuilding the Russian army after its early setbacks in the war in Ukraine.

This support is expected to be high on the agenda this week when Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Beijing.

A US State Department spokesperson said he was aware of “credible, open-source reports” that the Angara is now docked in a Chinese port and had raised the issue with Chinese authorities.

"We call on all member states to fulfill their obligations under UNSCR 2397," the official said.

He was referring to the UN resolution restricting trade with North Korea and requiring UN states to de-register any vessels involved in illegal 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.

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.

At least 11 voyages to Russia

The ship, sanctioned by the US 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.

Joseph Byrne, a research fellow with RUSI, said China's government should know that the US-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 repeatedly asked China not to aid Moscow's war effort since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which came just weeks after Russia and China declared a "no limits partnership".

Blinken last week criticized Chinese support for Russia's defense industry, saying Beijing was currently the primary contributor to Moscow's war in Ukraine though its provision of critical components for weaponry.

It should be noted that Beijing has provided diplomatic and economic support to Russia since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Trade between the two countries has increased sharply, and Moscow has been circumventing Western sanctions with the help of Beijing.

North Korean missiles for Russia

As a reminder, according to the US State Department, North Korea has supplied Moscow with more than 10,000 containers of ammunition or ammunition-related materials since September 2023.

At the same time, Vadym Skibitskyi, a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, said that North Korea had transferred 1.5 million pieces of artillery ammunition to Russia.