Of the 156 cases of illegal exports of strategic goods that South Korea detected from 2015 to March this year, two-thirds were potentially related to weapons of mass destruction, according to a list obtained by an opposition lawmaker.
Strategic goods are materials that can be used for military purposes. The list revealed that many strategic goods being illegally exported from South Korea can be used to make nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and missiles, which require stricter export controls.
From January 2016 to this March, 98 of 142 cases of illegal exports found by the South Korean Trade, Industry and Energy Ministry were related to weapons of mass destruction, according to the list.
The cases included exports of zirconium, a metal used to make high-performance precision machine tools and nuclear fuel rod cladding. South Korea sends zirconium to China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and other countries.
The list contains no information on whether illegal exports of materials subject to export controls were prevented or went ahead. However, there is concern the materials found their way to North Korea because China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia are known as major bases for companies smuggling goods into the North.
The head of the ministry’s international trade and investment office condemned Japan at a press conference Thursday, saying the country continues to raise groundless suspicions that undermine trust in the South Korean export control system. He said the South Korean government discloses unauthorized exports of strategic materials in a transparent manner each year, and emphasized that a number of unauthorized exports are detected in the United States as well.
However, the country’s annual report includes only limited information such as the number of cases detected. The names of companies that violated regulations are concealed on the list obtained by the opposition lawmaker.
Observers have pointed out flaws in South Korea’s export control system. These include a lack of transparency compared to Japan’s system, in which the names of companies that receive a warning from the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry are disclosed.
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