[post updated October 11, 1:57 a.m. Pacific Standard Time]
The Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reports that potentially dangerous concentrations of sarin gas, a deadly nerve agent used most infamously in the First World War, was detected along the Chinese-North Korean border. While the detection took place in November 2008 and February 2009, the story only broke yesterday as the result of PLA sources talking to the newspaper.
Isn’t the timing of this leak (of information, not toxic gas) rather interesting? After all, the Chinese premier just came back from Pyongyang, where the PLA seemed rather cozy with their KPA counterparts. But now someone in the PLA is reminding Japanese news sources, and their Western counterparts thereby, that all is not harmonious between PRC and DRPK. North Korea remains a provocateur.
The full text of the report is available here in Japanese.
English versions of the story, such as the here via AFP, pretty faithfully convey the main content of the Japanese report, but leave out one of the more interesting details: Chinese special forces consistently monitor air currents from North Korea, and that Chinese military aircraft flew over the areas of China where the sarin was floating in and did their best to detoxify the area. The Japanese report also discusses the possibility of chemical weapons being manufactured in the area of Sinuiju, the area that appears to be the source of the sarin.
Here is the AFP version. Once again, we Anglophones don’t get the whole story:
TOKYO (AFP) – China has detected deadly nerve gas at its border with North Korea and suspects an accidental release inside the secretive state, a Japanese news report said Friday.
The Chinese military is strengthening its surveillance activities after detecting the highly virulent sarin gas in November last year and in February in Liaoning province, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported, citing anonymous sources from the Chinese military.
Sarin gas, which was developed in Germany before World War I, was used in the deadly 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway by a doomsday cult.
The Chinese special operations forces found 0.015-0.03 microgrammes of the gas per cubic metre when they were conducting regular surveys while there were winds from the direction of North Korea, the report said.
China suspects that there were some experiments or accidents in its neighbouring country, it said.
A rather free-wheeling discussion of the story is going on here on a slightly strange but potentially helpful Anglophone BBS. Reports emerged in March 2006 that North Korea was gathering the basic ingredients for sarin. The Straits Times, via AFP again, has a more extensive story on North Korean biological/chemical weapons programs here. This news did not appear to receive big play in China, as it would have roiled the CCP’s aim to get people mobilized behind support of the Wen Jiabao visit and pushing for US-NK direct talks, but it was reported in a short sidebar in yesterday’s South China Morning Post, which is where I first encountered the story.
Finally, a German defense intelligence website reports on the story with an ominous graphic
and the reminder that Germans were the first to develop sarin. As they properly imply, the manufacture of sarin is not an expertise we should be privileging in the 21st century!
Coda: I myself am in possession of both Chinese and American documents (just two) from the early months of the Korean War that assert that the North Koreans were working on biological weapons themselves way back in 1950. One has to put socialist modernity to good use, after all! Of course, at the time, the Americans were happily using the rather large body of data coaxed out of Japanese war criminal Ishii Shiro, meaning that NK could simply have been engaging in some defensive research, with a little help from Soviet friends.