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China Investigating Whether It Helped North Korea Violate UN Sanctions

China is looking into whether it may have been involved in aiding a North Korean arms shipment that was bound for central Africa. The shipment was intercepted by South Africa and is in violation of United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang.

South Africa this week sent a letter to the United Nations Security Council detailing its seizure of a shipment of North Korean tank parts bound for the Republic of Congo.

News reports say the letter details the shipment's route, saying it was first loaded onto a ship in China and then transferred to a French-owned ship in Malaysia.

At a regular Foreign Ministry briefing in Beijing Thursday, spokesman Qin Gang had little to say on the matter.

Qin says China has noted the reports and is "looking into the issue." He said his country will take part in relevant discussions, but he gave no further details.

The shipment was seized in November, after officials at the French shipping company told South African authorities they were suspicious of the cargo their ship was transporting to the Republic of Congo.

The shipment violates a United Nations resolution that bans all North Korean arms exports and authorizes U.N. member states to inspect North Korean cargo on land, sea and air. The ban was imposed last June, in the wake of North Korea's underground nuclear test.

On a separate issue, the Chinese spokesman stressed that a recent agreement between China and North Korea to jointly develop two small border islands as "free-trade areas" does not violate any U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

Qin says China believes the latest project is consistent with the U.N. sanctions. He says the sanctions should not affect what he describes as "normal exchanges and cooperation" between the two countries.

The project involves developing two small islands in the Yalu River, near the Chinese border city, Dandong, as free trade areas where foreigners can enter and exit without visas. Reports say the plans include the construction of hotels, a golf course, entertainment facilities and agricultural parks. The reports say the aim is to increase foreign investment in North Korea and strengthen the isolated country's international economic ties.